The Goal isn't Fame, it's Influence

I lead an adventure club for fourth and fifth grade girls. A few years ago, we asked one of our groups about their future plans. Some of the girls wanted to be things like teachers or doctors, but the overwhelming majority wanted to be something else: Famous. We’ve all heard the stories about how being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—there’s the lack of privacy and the ongoing pressure to perform well, and the unwritten expectation that if you’re famous you also have a responsibility to be a good influence.

Famous icons like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, and Britney Spears have all had major and total public meltdowns. In public interviews, they often lament the crushing pressure fame has placed on them.

In an interview on The Today Show in October of 2017, Selena Gomez said: “You’re isolated. You’re being looked at. You’re being judged. I’m always trying to be nice.” She continued, “I want to be great. That’s genuinely who I am, deep down. But it just seemed pointless.” And in 2015, Justin Bieber said, “I was close to letting fame destroy me.” For years, musician and actress Demi Lovato has battled alcohol and drug addiction, self harm, and eating disorders, in addition to trying to manage Bipolar Disorder. When you’re famous, private battles happen on the public stage. She said, “I get mad. I get sad. I have all those emotions. But I just like to keep them to myself. I don't think my fans need to be bothered with if I'm mad or sad about something. I should just be concerned that they are keeping up with my music or I'm making them happy with my show.”

Regarding Britney Spears’s fame, an article in said, “She didn't crumble in isolation or simply of her own volition; she overdosed on fame, and we were complicit in that. We made her the single most-watched human being on the planet and then, gleefully, watched as she nearly died from overexposure. We celebrated her ascent to celebrity and then punished her for attaining the very perfection we demand.”


Who wants to be famous if it means meltdown in any form you look at it?

Influence used to mean something. Influence, according to subject matter expert Dr. Karen Keller , is knowing yourself. “The world’s most influential people don’t merely change other’s behavior; they shift their mindsets.”

Here are some examples:

  • In 1529, Sir John Harrington invented the flush toilet, something nearly everyone in the first world uses today. But before he did that, he was a writer who had a penchant for offending Queen Elizabeth I. We don’t remember him, but if it weren’t for him, maybe we’d all be covering our poo with pine straw like a common cat.

  • Aristarchus was the first person to postulate that the earth revolved around the sun, a full 1700 years before Copernicus made his ideas famous.

  • Sir Joseph Lister was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery. In fact, he’s the reason your surgeon washes his hands before and after contact with you and wears gloves during examinations.

  • Shirley Chisholm paved the way for women in politics, becoming the first African American woman to serve in Congress and make a bid for the Presidency.

  • Most people have heard of Amelia Earhart, but did you know Lillian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly an airplane?

  • And while everyone has heard of Neil Armstrong, it was Margaret Hamilton who designed the software that navigated the Apollo spacecraft that took him to the moon. Fun fact: she coined the term “software engineering,” a title that’s usually held by men.

The lesson:

We don’t have to be famous to do great things. There’s a whole bunch of people you’ve probably never heard of who were incredibly influential. Influence and fame aren’t the same thing. Fame can make a person influential, but fame doesn’t necessarily follow influence. When we say we want fame, what we’re really saying is that we want to be recognized for our accomplishments, to be given a pat on the back for all the hard work, for the difference we’ve made. And sure, a pat on the back, more followers on Instagram, and more money would be nice. But what if the impact we make IS all the reinforcement we really need? You probably never heard of John Harrington, but just because you’ve never heard of him doesn’t make his contribution any less important. I encourage you to thank him as you take care of your daily business today.

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