Fame Is Exhausting, So Don't Seek It Out

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Don’t all famous people look exhausted?

Of course that’s probably just a simple man’s interpretation and can be easily psycho-analyzed to death. Still, I have been thinking a lot about fame lately. What does it mean? Why do we seek it out? What is the point? I have had a strange life, in that I have been surrounded (from a young age) by people who are famous. Even now, I can count some famous people as true friends, and when I take to the stage to speak, I am (more often than not) bookended by some pretty famous folks as well. The truth is that these people don’t look all that exhausted, and while they probably have similar issues that regular folks (like you and I) have – I’m sure they fight with their spouses, that they’re disappointing their kids, that they grapple with addiction and are faced with stress and anxiety – it seems like they are content with how things have played out. They’re probably just busier than the vast majority of us and are put in front of more opportunities because of the attention that they’re getting.

The secret about fame.

I was having breakfast with some colleagues and someone implied that I was famous. I brushed it off. It felt weird. No one was interrupting our meeting and asking for an autograph. I’m anonymous in my day-to-day life. The implication was that I may be too busy to do something. Anything. Too busy to respond to email. Too busy to look at a new business opportunity. To busy to help and mentor someone. Too busy to give some time to a local charity. Whatever. When I prodded them a little bit more by scoffing at the notion, they said that my content is everywhere and that it’s hard not to look at the digital marketing landscape and not see my name pop up. They were being kind. I was being defensive.

It’s not about the fame.

When I think of fame, I think of individuals who are solely focused on being famous. You probably know people who have a lot of friends and followers like this on social media. They like to let you know how much of a big deal they are on Twitter, and the like. You probably know some celebrities who are famous for being famous (*cough* Kardashian *cough*). It’s not about the fame. I don’t wake up and think (or dream) about being famous. In fact, most of the famous people that I know are the same. I wake up and want to make the marketing industry better and more respected. I wake up and want brands to find better (and more human) ways to connect with their consumers. I wake up and have a deep desire to uncover some kind of relevant nugget and share it with clients and you. If the by-product is that people like this, share this, connect with this and want to be a part of this, then that is magical… and it’s very flattering.

Don’t confuse fame with chasing an audience.

In the massive hit song Fame by David Bowie, there’s this line: "Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame." It’s a great line because it’s true. Brands try to get attention and (some) are willing to do just about anything to get it. What most fail to realize is that fame isn’t a destination. Fame is a minor outcome of doing something that people want to connect with. AdWeek reported yesterday that the Super Bowl ads for this coming year are sold out. The article states: "Fox has sold the last of its available in-game Super Bowl spots, securing an average rate of $4 million per 30 seconds of airtime for the Feb. 2 broadcast. Media buyers said that latecomers who urgently wanted to break into the NFL‘s marquee event invested as much as $4.5 million per :30." If you don’t think brands and people are desperate for fame, you are not paying attention.

The thing about fame.

Fame is exciting and it’s seducing. I don’t believe that I am famous (not for a minute), but I can tell you about its seduction powers by watching those that I know who have a modicum of it. Those who aren’t exhausted by it are the ones who aren’t thinking about what it is and the value of it. They don’t let fame go to their head (which is not easy). Instead, they are head down and deeply focused on creating whatever it is that is important to them. They want to know that it has meaning, because it gives their lives meaning. If you advertise for fame and not because you’re trying to inform people of something new, it’s probably going to blow up in your face.

Don’t think about becoming famous. Think about creating a impact with the work that you do. Let’s hope the Super Bowl ads deliver that kind of value.


  1. Mitch: I couldn’t agree with you more. Insightful and well said. There was a time when my MO was driven partially by personal fame. It’s easy to get drunk with it when people like you and what you have to say. Now I’m energized by the power behind the message to create impact on the world, on people. Thanks for your blog and your ideas that you put out into the world.

  2. What an interesting article. I enjoyed it.
    As an indie author there are quite a few nights I go to bed dreaming of NY Times bestsellerdom.
    I think about fame from time to time and I agree, it does seem to be a double edged sword, especially if a person is one who enjoys privacy. I imagine that movie stars lives are, at best, dreadful.
    There are, however, plenty of authors who make very good livings, been on the NY Times list, and likely never get recognized in public. I want to be one of those.
    Still, you also make a good point about not letting any level of fame go to one’s head. I’ll keep that in mind.
    Brian D. Meeks
    Henry Wood Detective series

  3. love this, mitch.
    my favorite part, though, was the last line: Let’s hope the Super Bowl ads deliver that kind of value.
    it does seem that many companies prioritize getting fame (awareness, word of mouth, “likes”, etc.) over making an impact (creating real value for people) — without realizing that the best way to generate sustainable fame is to have a meaningful impact.
    — denise lee yohn

  4. A few months ago, a woman cornered me at a conference and kept saying “you are such a rockstar!” I get some version of this every day. This sentiment is the antithesis of who I am as a person and makes me terribly uncomfortable but what I have learned is that fame lives in the mind of the audience. I can’t control this. I can’t even have an impact. People think what they think. So my learning edge is to try to move from a position of awkwardness (and even defensiveness) to being gracious and understanding. Maybe some day even accepting! Thanks for the great post Mitch.

  5. Love this post. Insightful as always.
    Here’s a question: Is fame different from being renown? By publicly posting one’s thoughts on a particular topic, thoughts that people want to learn from or be a part of, it would seem that many of us who do this are likely more comfortable with being ‘renown’ vs ‘famous.’
    All to say, the most important point of your post (and Mark Shaefer’s comment) is the ability to take it as a compliment; something many of us find hard to do.

  6. Unfortunately, I think our mainstream media culture promotes the idea that “fame” is the pinnacle of success.
    I think that’s why so many people try and seek to be famous… not because they want to do the “work” fame requires… but because they see the glitter and glam on TV.

  7. In the NFL, it was always sad to see a teammate try and acquire fame because in my experience the only sure fire result was slew of bad decisions. Typically these manifested themselves in a player spending enormous amounts of money on people and things to uphold an image. These same individuals were also the ones more likely to try and use the news media to cause controversy.
    Reality is a cruel mistress because when your money runs out and your talent regresses the flame of fame will be extinguished. Ask Terrell Owens if you don’t believe me.

  8. Good stuff, Mitch. It reminds me of the quote about politicians: “Anyone that desires power is exactly the person that shouldn’t have it.”
    Seems the fame chasers could do with keeping that in mind.

  9. Mitch, your Die Empty podcast with Todd Henry does a nice job of touching on this subject. I like how Todd explained it (paraphrasing here): “Loving and participating in the ups/downs of the creative process is the key to long-term success. If you’re in it for the applause, the spoils, rewards, etc. that leads to failure (because that mentality isn’t sustainable).”

  10. Mitch, there is so much here to comment on… Let’s just isolate this:
    “Those who aren’t exhausted by [fame] are the ones who aren’t thinking about what it is and the value of it… Instead, they are head down and deeply focused on creating whatever it is that is important to them.”
    In my experience, nothing could be more true. Like you, the “famous” people I know are “famous” as a byproduct of pursuing their passion and becoming so excellent in it that others take notice, are inspired by their pursuits and aspire to follow in their footsteps.
    The world-famous race car driver isn’t pursuing fame, he’s pursuing excellence – outpacing his competition, winning races, championships, being at the top of his sport.
    The same is true with actors. The desire is to create, to inspire, to move others, to make a difference. It’s not about fame, it’s about the craft.
    Additionally, I believe “fame” is a status granted by others – usually as an acknowledgement of achievement or contribution at the highest levels – not something you can simply set out to go claim for yourself – at least not in any enduring capacity.

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