More to life than fame and fortune?

There’s no such thing as bad publicity. – Dictum of actors and politicians.

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Wealth and fame have become the new anchors of the American Dream.

For celebrities, and any who make their careers in the public eye, there is nothing worse than neglect.

As Oscar Wilde put it a little over a hundred years ago:

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

I must be in the minority here, but I find the endless profiles in magazines and television specials on people who are “famous for being famous” annoying if not insulting.

That being said, I think most of us are fully aware of how shallow, if not self-destructive, such a philosophy is because few of us admit to such a belief system, even though we attribute it to others.

The think tank Populace ( recently published an important new study that uses data collected by Gallup about what Americans believe constitutes “success.” The researchers found that most of us believe that other people see fame as central to personal success. Among a nationally representative sample of 5,242 Americans, 92 percent said fame is part of how they think other people define success: “A person is successful if they are rich, have a high-profile career, or are well-known.”

But here’s what I find compelling about  the report’s findings: Only 3 percent said that fame is how they themselves define their own personal success. Instead, 97 percent picked this definition: “A person is successful if they have followed their own interests and talents to become the best they can be at what they care about most.”

In other words, personal success, and certainly durable happiness comes from a sense of accomplishment, which is far more likely to come from mastering a craft than from achieving fame.

As we all know, being recognized and even congratulated for a job well done can motivate us, but usually not for long.

Apparently 97 percent of us are content to work with only occasional recognition. 3 percent of us seem to be in need of constant applause. To put it mildly, this is not a positive indicator of a healthy individual or society.

What should we make of those who evidently make up the 3 percent who equate success and fame in their own lives?

Psychologists who have studied the subject have found a particular desire for fame among narcissists, people who are unusually socially insecure and those especially afraid of death.

To put it mildly, these are not the people we want ourselves or our children to be, nor those whom we want as leaders or bosses. Or employees. Or neighbors. Or friends. Or spouses. Or business partners.

I think we all know that the obsession with attaining fame for its own sake is not normal at all; that fame-seekers should have our concern, not our adoration.

We should teach children that happiness is possible despite fame but never because of it; and that fame should be only a rare, and unsought by-product of good work. Most important, we should avoid leaders in politics and culture who have this pathological definition of personal success.


The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.  – Criss Jami

Recognition is important, but fame can be fickle. Photo: Morf Morford
Recognition is important, but fame can be fickle. Photo: Morf Morford

In contrast to the inherent shallowness of the pursuit of fame, most Americans have a broadly dispersed sense of what truly constitutes success – The most important domains in Americans’ personal definitions of success are education (17.1%), relationships (15.6%), and character (15.4%) but even those key features only represent about half of us.

In fact, according to the study, there is no “average” view. But most of us do share opinions on what other Americans believe defines success, status (45.9%), education (19.8%) and finances (8.8%).

Maybe we’ve all seen too many movies or heard too many stories about individuals whose lives have imploded because of their pursuit, or even accomplishment of fame.

Besides, if there is anything “real” Americans value, it would be how they are distinct from everyone else. An overwhelming majority of Americans now define a successful life as following their unique interests and talents to become the best they can be at what they care about most. Americans are hungry for a world that understands and values them. A world that is built to nurture and unleash their (and their children’s) unique talents.


Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.  – Mark Twain


It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

This ability to respond to the constant and inevitable changes and challenges of life is the key to the success of every business, culture and relationship.

One of the few guarantees of life is that there will be challenges, difficulties and disappointments few of us ever would have expected. It is how we respond to these that defines who we are.


Life is 10% what happens and 90% of how you react to it.  – Charles Swindoll

Those who truly make a difference, who deserve recognition, will be those who step up or speak when no one else will.

Anyone can go along with everyone else, but you won’t find courage, inspiration or a sense of accomplishment there.


There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. – Aristotle

Fame may be pursued – or even avoided, but recognition, or “greatness” as Shakespeare put it, is not something we should fear. Fame, perhaps like nothing else, is the truest test of character.

Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.   – William Shakespeare

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