Perks and Problems of Becoming ‘Important’
Success, like failure, brings with it extra baggage. Sometimes that baggage is like a suitcase filled with wonderful things – new adventures, additional opportunities, pretty new possessions, exciting relationships. But not always. And sometimes our fear of the negatives of success may keep us from becoming successful.
Many of us might be happy to have some extra fortune, but would not choose extra fame. How many of us really want to be a Tom Cruise, or Queen Elizabeth, or Billy Graham, or the president or prime minister of our country, recognized by most people and guarded, protected, and sometimes threatened?
Some of us might wonder if we were better known, with more power and clout, if this would ruin us. If we become more famous, instead of gaining meaning, will we lose it? We may lose simplicity, clarity, and be pushed around by everyone else’s idea of who we should be.
What would happen to us if we became a more public figure? Our particular public may vary in numbers. The president or vice-president of a company, whether large or small, may only be known to a few people. Politicians and their families, musicians, writers, actors, astronauts, scientists, may be known locally, nationally, or worldwide.
After I became somewhat of a celebrity within my own world of screenwriting, one of the members of our Quaker Meeting in Santa Monica asked me one day, “Are you kind of a star?” I laughed, and said, “Well, within my own small world, I’m fairly well known. But why do you ask that question?”
Colleen replied, “I was talking to someone and your name came up. They became very excited when I mentioned you were a friend of mine, and you were a member of Santa Monica Friends Meeting. Suddenly the person started asking me many questions – about what you were like, who you were married to, and other personal questions. A little red flag went up in my mind, and I simply replied, ‘She’s very nice!’”
I told Colleen that was the right response. After that, I learned that people who didn’t know me, but knew about me, were discussing me when hiking with friends, on trains, in conferences, in offices, in restaurants. Sometimes I got emails from people I didn’t know. Although much of it was positive, some of it was hate mail where the person clearly knew little about who I was.
As my friend Cathleen reminded me, “That all comes with being a public figure!” And then she would add, nicely, “You’ll have to learn to deal with it if this is the career you want!”
When I multiplied my experiences a thousand times, to gain insights into people who were far more important than me; I could see the problems quite clearly. Being important means many extra stresses: VIPs are asked for interviews, to be on the Board or contribute to charities, to be spokespersons at events, to write books and give speeches and to share their star power with others. They are asked to do more and more but find the more they do for others; the more they might lose themselves and their own personal goals.
Some might say, “I want none of that! Just give me a little job I can do well, day by day!” But if we are called to share our talents, and if that calling includes becoming important, then the choice of saying “no” is not a choice at all. Of course we’re going to say “yes” to the reasonable demands that allow us to do more good. We can simply recognize – the more we do and give and contribute, the more we put ourselves out there for people to notice. Yes, they might criticize us and misinterpret us and form inaccurate opinions of us. That comes with the territory and we can learn to deal honestly and graciously with it. But we can also appreciate the opportunity to share our gifts. And isn’t that what we want to do?