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Issue 36

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In this issue ~~

* Success, Fame and Visibility

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Success, Fame and Visibility

"Success is far more perilous than failure." So said Noel Coward in his play, Design for Living. We all strive fervently for success, but when we actually get there, it can challenge as well as reward us. Success changes your life irrevocably. You receive more attention, opportunities and privileges, as well as financial rewards, but the increased visibility can also limit your privacy, make demands on you and inhibit your creativity.

Certainly, fame has its benefits. I believe it was George Carlin who said that the best part of fame was not having to wait on lines anymore. Our culture needs heroes, so we put celebrities on pedestals. You may find yourself being offered artistic opportunities that would never have come your way before, along with personal privileges. You may make more money in one week than in the previous five years. But we also live in a society that sets impossible standards for our heroes, and then turns on them when they can't maintain, or even reach, those standards.

As artists, we're often sensitive people, and visibility opens us up to people's projections and criticisms. They may idolize us and expect us to be flawless human beings, the ideal mother or father they never had, or confuse us with the characters we play or our public image, and then become angry when they see our human imperfections or our reluctance to fill that role for them. We've seen how theatre and other critics make an art of skewering performers and artists, to the delight of their readers, insensitive to the hurt they may be causing the object of their criticism. Sadly, the public feeds on this type of press, epitomized by the tabloids, and perpetuates it.

Fame is a double-edged sword, and we may find ourselves ambivalent about our newfound notoriety. We crave attention, but when we get it, we may feel exposed and vulnerable. An acting teacher of mine once commented (to a student whose hair was covering her face during a scene) on how we become actors because we want to be seen, then we get up on stage and do everything to hide ourselves. While fame brings with it certain freedoms, the ones that come with anonymity may become limited. On "Entertainment Tonight," one teen celebrity commented that being famous made it embarrassing to go shopping for underwear.

Despite these negatives, it's against our nature to strive for anything less than our best, and many of us do want the opportunities that come with success and fame. If you feel – or hope – that some level of celebrity is on the horizon for you, the best thing you can do for yourself is prepare for this event the best you can – physically, mentally and emotionally.

~ Get to know who you are – your values, your needs, what really matters to you. Spend time getting to know yourself, perhaps journaling or talking with close friends. One successful author who has achieved some fame said that the best thing she did to prepare herself was therapy. She got very clear on who she was and what she really wanted from her life, so that when fame arrived, she had a solid foundation on which to stand, and it didn't throw her.

Know why you're doing what you're doing. If it's for the fame, fine, acknowledge that. But be aware that goals like fame and money, on their own, often don't stand the test of time. Consider striving for fame and money as a means to a greater end, such as more fulfilling or exciting artistic opportunities or to reach a larger audience with your work. In What Price Fame?, Tyler Cowen questions whether fame doesn't "goad artists, scientists and politicians to reach higher and take the kinds of risks that ultimately enrich all our lives." Now, there's a goal you can sink your teeth into!

~ Develop trust with the people in your life. Once you achieve some level of success or fame, you'll encounter people who will want to be around you for ulterior motives, and even some of your friends will expect to benefit from the bounty of your success. Begin to develop your "trust antenna," and surround yourself with people who continue to support and be honest with you as your success grows.

~ Be prepared for your relationships to be tested. People will receive your success differently. Some will come forth and celebrate with you; others will be jealous or expect something of you. When my publishing company published its first book, some of our friends bought the book to help us out, while others got angry they didn't get a freebie.

~ Learn to set boundaries. You need to know how much you can handle and take care of yourself. For example, I attended a workshop with a famous teacher/author who was inundated with questions during the breaks, but made it clear that once the workshop was over, she would leave immediately. If you get mail or e-mail that upsets you, have someone screen it for you. Screen your phone calls. Fame has its demands, and you need to preserve your time, health and sanity in order to continue your success. Learn to say "no" kindly, but firmly.

~ Be careful about getting caught up in the trappings of success. Your new privileges can be fun, but they can also distract you from the work that got you there in the first place. Again, remember what matters to you. Sure, enjoy your success, but keep one foot on the ground.

~ Stay in touch with what you love about your work, so as success waxes and wanes, you still get and retain the gratification. The thrill of success is fleeting. Connect with the joy you get from your work, rather than getting addicted to the high of fame and feeling pressured to keep it up. Also, stay in touch with your artistic vision, however it evolves. The adoration of your public can be compelling, and it can be easy to stray from your own vision to please them. There's nothing wrong with responding to your fans, but be sure that it's aligned with what you want for yourself and that you're not compromising your values or integrity.

~ Create a solid foundation for yourself, both emotionally and financially. Success can challenge your creativity, your privacy and even your morality. You may receive some extremely tempting offers that ask you to compromise your principles. When you have a good emotional support system and financial assets, you give yourself the freedom to make choices from a solid, grounded place, rather than selling out because you need the money or emotional gratification.

~ Be prepared for the negatives. Take your reviews and criticisms in stride, and don't give them more weight than they deserve. If there's a criticism you feel is valid, then take it into account. But keep in mind that both positive and negative reviews are simply opinions, and people love to express them freely and, often, carelessly. You're still the ultimate authority on your work. Remember that many accomplished artists had visions that were controversial in their time.

~ Stay humble. Your talents are a gift given to you to share with the world. Be proud of them, enjoy them, but stay grounded. It can become very seductive for the part of us that loves power to see others as inferior. Even as a small press owner, I found that some writers began treating me deferentially, and it would have been very easy to treat them as "underlings." Remember to be grateful for all that comes to you, and when the time is right, give back to your audience and to those coming up in your field who can benefit from your experience.

~ With fame comes power, and with power comes responsibility. Whether you like it or not, your image and behavior become a model for your fans, some of whom may be kids. You can wield your power for the greater good. Many celebrities have used their visibility to start or become a spokesperson for a charity, or to support a political candidate or cause they believe in.

~ If you know someone who has achieved a level of celebrity, be compassionate and trustworthy. You may feel jealous, but remember that fame doesn't erase personal challenges, and your friend may need your support more than ever. You'll want the same compassion and trust when you reach their position.

So, if you're fortunate enough to find success and fame, enjoy it and make the most of it. There's no question that it will change you, as any life experience does, but you can choose how you will change. You can continue to live and make choices from your values and principles, rather than being tossed about by the temptations. Remember why you chose to do your work in the first place, and stay in touch with your love for it. Be prepared for the pitfalls, and you'll enjoy the ride that much more!

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Creative Tip

Prepare for success by choosing the image you want to convey, and begin dressing and behaving in a way that supports the successful image you see for yourself. Act "as if" you're already there, and other people will also start to see you as the successful person you intend to be.

 

Wise Words

"Our dreams, goals, and ideas come from our values. . . If what we are doing does not come from what we care about most in life, it is meaningless."

~ G. Lynne Snead, Joyce Wycoff

"What we must decide is how we are valuable rather than how valuable we are."

~ Edgar Z. Friedenberg

"It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous."

~ Robert Benchley


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Bookshelf

(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Power, Money, Fame, Sex: A User's Guide . . . Gretchen Craft Rubin

The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History . . . Leo Braudy

What Price Fame? . . . Tyler Cowen

High Visibility: The Making and Marketing of Professionals into Celebrities . . . Irving J. Rein, Philip Kotler, Martin Stoller

Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture . . . P. David Marshall

Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America . . . Joshua Gamson

A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations . . . Cintra Wilson

Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity . . . David Giles

 

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© 2001 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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