What Would You Want to Be Famous For?
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My fame reached its apex in 2010, when within six months my writing attracted more attention—including three appearances on national TV—than it has ever done during any other half-year before or since.
It happened because the editors of a prestigous website, having seen my work at another prestigious website, asked me to write a listicle about relationships. Listicles were fledgling, then: "The 10 Most Embarrassing Tattoos" and "6 Ways to Recognize a Vampire" weren't yet Onion-esque.
My assignment was to pack my listicle with statistics, percentages and ratios. I thought: OMFG. I hate math. I earned Ds in it, in middle school. I respect science (my dad was a scientist) but it terrifies me. Relationships? They exist. Meh.
I was grateful for that assignment, as I am for all assignments, yet its topic bored me and its math-and-science focus frightened me.
Heck yes, I wrote that listicle. Because it was for a prestigious website, because lifelong self-loathing made me seize every offer slaveringly, pantingly, whether or not I really wanted it or it was right for me. I wrote it and, for some reason, it trended. MSNBC promptly invited me to discuss it on-air, before an audience of millions.
Heck yes, I went on TV. I wore a red sweater. But something made me resist grooming, consulting a stylist or even a stylish friend or a prettily lipsticked stranger on the street. I cut my own hair (not well) and avoided mirrors the day of my interview. Mumbling numbers to Contessa Brewer, I looked like absolute hell.
A friend emailed me after viewing that broadcast: Your head looked lopsided. Hey, thanks!
And it happened again. And then again. Three trending statistical listicles on topics that meant zilch to me, three interviews on MSNBC. Three extended panic attacks. Three chances to, I don't know, seize the reins and/or create career gold that I turned instead into bad-haired, deer-crunching-numbers-in-the-headlights, eternally cringey hell.
Then the assignments ended, and the TV spots. I blamed myself for crashing and burning, for being bad at math, not being hot, not being cool.
My Famous Half-Year, during which millions saw my name, traumatized me. It took me until now to realize why: What happened to me is what happens when you forget whom you are and what you love.
I became famous for things I had written, yes: But terse, number-y lists aren't my kind of writing. I cared nothing for those topics, but in talking on TV as if I did, I was a charlatan. Deep down, something in me knew how far I had wandered from my true self, and rebelled.
Other writers would have adored that gig, deserved it and fully inhabited the fame—just as I might have done, had I been assigned articles about seashells, strange feelings, ghosts or crows.
Not that stories on such subjects would likely lead to fame. Which means I might not be famous again. Which is OK.
Choosing things for the wrong reasons—shame, fear, conformity, greed, self-loathing—taints whatever success such choices yield, however glittery.
What if you became famous today—what if you were on TV in 3, 2, 1—because of something you're currently doing or did recently? How would that make you feel?
If you could attain vast renown for anything you've ever done, become or said, or anything you might yet do, become or say, what would you most want that to be?