Would you rather be famous or helpful?

mindset passions May 16, 2023

In this era of online platforms and social media, the former gatekeepers who determined what content would be popular and what wouldn’t have been replaced by the court of public opinion.  I’m friends with quite a few people who have achieved a level of notoriety that would have been very difficult for them to achieve in an earlier era of history.

If you’re in the midst of creating online content, what effect do you hope that content will have on others?  What do you ultimately want to achieve through the proliferation of what you’re writing and recording?

In the simplest terms, I think there are two primary ways that question can be answered.  Either you want to be famous or you want to be helpful.  One of those desires ranks higher on your scale than the other.

The actor Bill Murray has certainly achieved fame during the course of his acting and comedy career.  Bill first became known to most people when he was hired by Saturday Night Live, but then became famous for his roles in movies like Ghostbusters, What About Bob?, and Groundhog Day.  

In recent years, I have seen a variety of things about Bill Murray shared on social media that mention what a nice guy he is.  He likes to randomly show up at wedding receptions and other public events just to hang out with people and take pictures.  And even though he’s one of the most famous people in the world, he doesn’t seem impressed with his own fame.  He’s quoted as saying…

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: 'try being rich first'. See if that doesn't cover most of it. There's not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”  -Bill Murray

Celebrity status can bring many benefits like fame, fortune, and influence. But it isn’t all good.  It comes with pitfalls that I think most of us would prefer to avoid if we could.  Some of these pitfalls include:

1. Loss of privacy: One of the most significant downsides of celebrity status is the loss of privacy. Celebrities often have to deal with constant media attention and invasive fans, which can make it difficult for them to have a normal life.

2. Pressure to maintain a certain image: Celebrities often feel pressure to maintain a certain image, which can be exhausting and emotionally draining. They may feel like they have to be perfect all the time, and any misstep or mistake can be magnified and scrutinized by the public.

3. Difficulty forming genuine relationships: It can be difficult for celebrities to form genuine relationships with others.  They may find themselves questioning others' motives and intentions. They may also have a hard time trusting people and may feel isolated and lonely as a result.

4. Increased risk of addiction and mental health issues: The pressure and stress of celebrity status can take a toll on mental health, and many celebrities struggle with addiction, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

5. Lack of privacy for family and friends: Not only do celebrities lose their own privacy, but their family and friends may also be subject to unwanted attention and scrutiny.  I’m certainly not a celebrity, but most of my adult life has been spent serving in public roles online and offline.  My children who are all essentially adults now could tell you that wasn’t always pleasant for them.

For some people, fame is the primary thing they desire to gain from creating their platform.  Some of you, if you aim for that, will achieve it.  But if I may, let me suggest a much higher aspiration than fame.  Let me encourage you to prioritize being helpful over being famous.

When you have a public platform, you have the opportunity to use your influence to promote healthy ideals that genuinely improve the lives of others. One of my greatest joys are the notes of thanks I receive in my email from people who listen to my shows or read what I’ve written, and their lives have improved in specific ways.  That’s far more gratifying than fame.  I would much rather be helpful than famous.

Earlier this week, a podcast listener contact me and told me that one of my shows helped her overcome a struggle in her life that she’s been wrestling with for decades.

Just yesterday, I received two cards in the mail.  One was a postcard from a listener who listens to one of my podcasts every morning during her morning routine.  The other card was from a friend who wanted to say “thank you” for encouraging her through my content and through my life.

I received another message via email the day before yesterday from a listener who simply asked me to pray for him about something that’s been very discouraging during this season of life.  I made a point to do that the second I read his message.

My point in sharing those examples is to highlight the fact that we have the opportunity to be helpful with what we’re creating, and that should be a great motivator when we get behind a microphone, camera, or keyboard.  We’ve been entrusted with the opportunity to make the lives of others better.  That’s a big deal, and certainly something worth investing our time in.

So if you’re wrestling with whether to aim for fame or strive to be helpful, I’d encourage you to choose the latter.  Fame lasts for just a moment and then it’s gone like a puff of smoke, but the help you offer others might improve their lives drastically while also providing generational benefit to those they influence as well.

©  John Stange, 2023

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