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Fame, Fortune, Friends, and Family
Howdy everyone. This week we’re going to unravel a desire that we all hold, but that can get in the way of deeper meaning. No further preamble. Let’s get into it.
ONE FROM THE AGES
“There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
- Mark Twain
ONE FROM TODAY
Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, on the most important ingredient of a healthy and happy life:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-years study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier…People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”
Source: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness by Robert Waldinger for TEDx
ONE FROM US
In the TED talk quoted above, Robert Waldinger cites a recent study that asked Millennials about their major life goals. The results are predictable given Millennials’ reputation for selfishness and entitlement. Eighty percent said that becoming rich was a major life goal and over half also reported that they would like to become famous. Very few answered according to the major themes that modern psychology has shown to bring long-term life satisfaction.
It’s likely that the 20 and 30-year-olds from any point in the last 100 years would answer similarly-youthful folly. Although it’s probably safe to assume that Millennials crave wealth and fame more than their parents did and that this trend continues to increase in today’s teens and young adults.
But this isn’t an indictment on my generation, the one to follow, or our parents and grandparents for teaching us these values. Fame and fortune are attractive to all of us, at least on some level. But before you dismiss these goals as only for the selfish and misguided, know that there is more to the story. Wealth and fame are not a fool’s errand. They are just an incomplete version of our natural and fundamental driving forces.
Humans need three fundamental things to feel strong and fulfilled - connection, competency, and authenticity. Connection doesn’t come from lots of friends and family and it doesn’t necessarily require romantic love. True connection comes from trust. We need people that we can count on and we need to feel that we are counted upon by others. We also need a certain level of competency in our lives. We need to feel that we are good at what we do and that what we do contributes to the world. Competency also comes from the trust and confidence that our invested time and effort will return as improvements to our abilities. Finally, we need to feel authenticity. Authenticity is the most difficult to define. For now, we’ll simply call it a life that aligns with your values and return to it later.
Wealth is attractive for many reasons. The obvious reason is stuff. Stuff is fun and we all want more stuff. But hidden in this desire is the assumption that because comfort and convenience feel good, more of them must be better. Unfortunately, fluffy slippers, spa days, and Mai Tais don’t stack up to form a meaningful life. But our true attraction to money is even sneakier. Wealth can serve as a proxy for our deep needs for competence and authenticity. We assume that if we have a lot of money, we must be good at what we do and we must be living out our values. If we weren’t doing something right, why else would we be so materially rewarded? This is a classic example of chasing a metric rather than focusing on your true needs. If you’re already rich there is no need to develop competence in many things or define a value system to find the fulfillment that comes from an authentic life. There is nothing wrong with money or wanting it. But seeking money specifically or by any means precludes authenticity.
Fame can be a similar stand-in for our true needs. You assume that if you receive notoriety and attention, you must deserve it—you must be competent enough to warrant praise. This is not true competency. Attention and admiration can feel at first like connection, but they are poor substitutes for love and trust. Fame means that many people know of you, but very few truly know you. The more that you pander directly to fame, the more difficult you are to be known or loved. Holding fame as a direct goal precludes authenticity.
I think of these three needs—connection, competency, and authenticity—as armor to prepare for life’s inevitable challenges. We all need to be ready to meet our problems. I can’t help but see the desire for wealth and fame as the delusional belief that we can sidestep this process. We seek wealth because we believe that we’ll be able to buy the solutions to our problems. We seek fame for an even greater delusion—with enough adoration, we’ll cease to have problems at all.
A great life comes from solving problems. We only develop competency by working through an increasingly difficult and complex set of problems. Strong relationships are the support system and guidance along the way. Authenticity is the mature understanding that problems arise, that you are responsible for them, and that you probably need help to solve them. Let’s celebrate this process and know that it’s where our deepest meaning comes from.
My aim today was to decode why fame and fortune seem so attractive. The next step is to define the most fulfilling area to direct our focus. The answer, in a word, is relationships. To continue this thinking, I recommend that you watch the above TED talk (also linked here) from Robert Waldinger. He’s the current director of a study that has been tracking the lives of 700 people (and now their over 2000 kids and spouses) for over 75 years.
Speaking of relationships, our highest goal with IHD has always been to build a relationship with all of you who connect with our thoughts and values. Every new “product” that we’ve ever built has been an attempt to better connect with all of you. We aren’t quite ready to announce the details yet, but we are planning a series of live courses. For those interested, we want to see your face, hear your voice, and share group discussions. Details coming in the next few weeks!
Thanks for being with me today and remember, life is too short to be normal.