I used to be famous.
Back when I worked as a reporter for my hometown newspaper just after college, my daily front page stories garnered quite a reputation for me. I would be grocery shopping or attending church or covering another public event, and people would come up to me and comment about my stories.
In addition to covering local school board meetings and the daily arrests report from the county sheriff’s department, I also went on a few adventures and met some interesting people and wrote about them. I once got to take a boat ride with a team from the Department of Natural Resources and watch while they tagged bald eagles in our area. Another time, I tagged along with the deputy sheriff on a major marijuana bust. The story I was most famous for was about a boy who was going to show a cat at the 4-H fair. A series of unfortunate circumstances, each more unbelievable than the next, meant the family actually went through about three cats before the fair arrived.
A few weeks after the article ran, I was at a wedding. A friend introduced me to his date, and she said, “You’re THE Charity Singleton?” I nodded. “I read your story about the cat,” she said. “It was hysterical.”
The problem with being famous is that most of you reading this right now didn’t actually know me then. You didn’t know I was famous. Because with few exceptions, fame isn’t as ubiquitous as we expect. Fame is relative.
“There is famous and there is famous to the family,” Seth Godin says. “And famous to the family is precisely the goal of just about all marketing now. You don’t need to be Nike or Apple or GE. You need to be famous to the small circle of people you are hoping will admire and trust you. Your shoe store needs to be famous to the 300 shoe shoppers in your town. Your retail consulting practice needs to be famous to 100 people at ten major corporations. Your WordPress consulting practice needs to be famous to 650 veterinarians or chiropractors. Famous the way George Clooney and George Washington are famous, but to fewer people.”
I’ll admit that sometimes I want to be famous. But what do I really mean by that? Do I have the stamina and grace or even the desire to travel most of the year and stand before large crowds and be followed by the paparazzi and ogled by stalkers? Not on your life. Do I want people to buy my books and read what I write and hire me to do good work for them? That’s more like it.
For most of us, that’s all the fame we’re really looking for, and it’s hardly even fame. It’s just famous to the family. Or in other words, it’s called having an engaged audience.
Last week, I talked about asking the important question “who is this for?” each time I write. This week, I want to suggest another question: who am I trying to become? The questions are related, of course. Because the audience I am trying to reach will be directly affected by the person I am trying to become: and both will affect the kind and quality of the work I produce.
There isn’t one path to fame. And apart from Lady Gaga, whose quest for fame followed precisely the script she wrote for herself, people who are extremely famous are often surprised by that fact when it actually happens. It’s hard to predict. Being famous to the family, though, is another story.
“Being famous to the family is far more efficient than being famous to everyone,” Godin writes. “It takes focus, though.” Being famous to the family means I have a strong sense of who I am and who I want to become, and I do the kind of work that reflects that vision. When I forget who I am, or when I’m not sure who I want to become, then seeking after fame becomes an end in itself.
Shawn Smucker recently wrote a blog post, “To My Friends Who Are Not Famous,” and he talked about the downside of chasing after fame for its own sake.
“I don’t think wanting to be famous is always a negative thing, but I have found the pitfalls, Smucker writes. “Believe me. The main dangers I see, when my desire to become famous turns towards obsession, are these: it leads to strong feelings of jealousy; it leads me to scrap and claw for my own piece of the pie, completely disregarding others; it leads to discouragement when I’m not the one speaking at the conference, when I’m not the one giving the interview, when my books are not the ones flying off the shelves.”
Who am I trying to become when I write? Bestselling author? Or the best author my family knows? Or maybe just the best author I can be. I think that last one will take me the farthest toward achieving the only fame I’m actually looking for … especially if I throw in a good cat story along the way.
Photo by Splitshire via Pixabay.