I was called a superstar yesterday. Twice. The first time I was there to hear it and let it go, and, luckily, the second time, it was over the interwebs. I’m glad I didn’t hear it the second time or else I would have been writing this last night or working through it in my sleep.
Every time I hear something like this it simultaneously makes me laugh and reminds me of how far I actually have to go. An occupational hazard of running with, coaching, and presenting with Big Names is that it’s easy to get caught in compare and despair land. By many of the metrics people use to determine whether people are superstars are not, I’m out of my league. In talent, expertise, and heart, perhaps not, but there are plenty of people who have those that we don’t call superstars.
When I give local presentations, I’ll often ask people if they know who Seth Godin is. Given the role he plays in my life (as a mentor from afar) and the lives of my friends, it’s unfathomable to me that people don’t know who he is. And, if there were a small group of true superstars from our world, he’d have to be on the list. Yet, time and time again, only 15-20% knows who is, unless it’s a group familiar with the Internet world.
I’m just as shocked when they don’t know who David Allen, Stephen Covey, Micheal Porter, Peter Drucker, Dan Pink, or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi are. I’m quite sure this reeks of know-it-all-ness, but that’s not what I’m trying to convey; a decade ago, I could’ve only named three of the above (Allen, Covey, and Drucker) and I’ve always been an avid non-fiction reader and, thus, a certified geek.
When I start creating Venn diagrams of superstars and corralling people in them, those are some of the names that go in there. Were I to add another circle of “Internet Superstars”, I’m still not sure that I would put myself in the circle.
But here’s the rub: I don’t know what it would take for me to put myself in that circle. An interviewer asked me a question yesterday about something that’s happened to me that’s indicated to me that I’ve “made it,” and I told him the truth that I don’t know that I’ll ever have “made it.” I’m constantly making it, but I haven’t made it. Note: this doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate what I’ve done, but my pursuit of excellence renews every day.
To add further to this quagmire, many of the people I’d put in the latter list and some in the former list are a phone call, open door, or favor away. That’s telling.
I’ve spoken with and to a lot of “superstars” in my time, and what’s always served me well is to remember that they’re just people. Accomplished people, but people nonetheless. Treating them like superstars is the easiest way to make it awkward for all parties involved. I know this, of course, but I still have my fanboi moments like when I met Jack Johnson in Kansas City and was starstruck.
All that is what I know cognitively. On an emotional level, there are still these damn Venn diagrams with me not in them, at least not for a while. At least I’ve gotten better about correcting people about me not being a superstar, as that’s just disrespectful to all of us. I now say thank you and move on to the next thing.
I’ve been listening to some new artists lately, one of which is B.o.B. He’s now a fairly big name, but many of his songs still feature moments where he’s struggling because he’s not one of the Big Names of his industry. The same with Lupe Fiasco. David Gray has mentioned something similar, as has Jack Johnson. Superstars deal with this, too, even once they become superstars.
The simple truth is that superstardom is relative. The more profound one, I think, is that the entire label is mostly unhelpful at a spiritual and emotional level, even though there is often practical utility to the use and attractiveness of the term. I’ve yet to meet someone who, at their core, doesn’t want to be one – they don’t want the perceived negative consequences of being one, but that’s a different story.
To say it’s unhelpful actually understates it. ‘Superstardom’, as a concept, is harmful in that it causes many degrees of isolation. It isolates the superstars from the world around them; their social experiences are bizarre as people do the strangest things to get their attention. And it causes us to be isolated from each other and our own unique strengths – we forget that we, too, have power and can be epic in our own way. We spend so much time reading stories about other people than writing our own.
Who knows, though? Maybe I’ll see it differently when I’m a superstar.