Cinderella lived happily ever after. Or at least that’s how the story goes. And there are a lot of Cinderella stories today – they just don’t always end so well. When a YouTube video can go viral and make its producer instantly famous; when reality TV shows give instant money and fame to everyday, ordinary folk; when a single game app (think “Flapping Birds”) can rake in a fortune; and when a lottery win or a single hit song can propel someone to stardom, we have to wonder how they cope with their sudden success. Unfortunately, in most instances, not well. They don’t cope well because they are not prepared for the emotional, social, and physical toll that such success brings. Here are the issues that most instantly successful people face.
Instant Fame and Fortune – Heaven or Hell – You decide
The consequence of an instant success often means that a private, personal, and very ordinary life suddenly becomes very public. Dealing with this sudden onslaught of publicity takes an emotional toll that we ordinary folks who remain ordinary cannot understand. Susan Boyle, the shy introverted singer who captured world acclaim after her appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent,” found out that being catapulted to fame takes a terrible emotional toll. In fact, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility shortly after her 2nd-place win on the show. And in 2010, she cancelled a tour to Australia, facing physical and emotional exhaustion. Fortunately, she has been able to push through all of this with lots of professional help, but others are not so lucky.
Dealing with instant success requires emotional intelligence, that ability to respond with emotional evenness when your life has become so public. Others will criticize, judge, attempt to manipulate, and make demands. The individual who lacks emotional intelligence will take all of this to heart, will respond from emotion rather than from reason. Public emotional responses mean lashing out; private emotional responses mean questioning one’s worthiness and taking the opinions of others to heart. When emotional intelligence is present, the individual feels no need to respond publicly or privately to the thoughts and opinions of others – they have no validity or power. Showing restraint is a sign of emotional intelligence.
Preparing for the Future
Instant success and fame today can easily be gone tomorrow. Lottery winners are the subject of lots of press during the first few days after their wins. But the press moves on, and it becomes the newly rich and/or famous person’s job to figure out his/her future. In the short term, instant fame and wealth means that new cars and homes are purchased; perhaps travel is in the plan. But at some point, that short-term future has to give way to long-term planning. What productive and meaningful goals and activities will be pursued?
Lottery winners who made no plans for their long-term futures simply continued to pursue those short-term goals, became horribly bored, and fell into lives of drugs, parties, and, ultimately, of being broke. This is what many term the “terrible freedom” of sudden success. Others have used their fame and fortune to pursue lofty long-term goals. They have set up foundations and charitable causes and have become ambassadors for those causes. When worthwhile long-term goals are set and pursued, instant fame and success become sources of purpose.
A lot of Weirdos Appear
Some of these weirdos you already know – that crazy cousin who always has some sort of scheme going; that lifelong friend who all of a sudden has great opportunities for your investment. Some you don’t know – strangers and/or acquaintances who want to “ride” on your success. Getting truly trusted advisors who are themselves sane and rational and who can restrain your impulses will be critical for your long-term security.
It’s Hard to Say “NO”
Especially when friends and relatives are involved, it is hard to say “no” to requests and pleas. The problem with this is that, once a successful person gets into that mode of saying “yes” to everyone, it never stops. The word spreads that the “target” is an easy “mark.” If this becomes habitual, the individual soon loses his/her focus, money, and self-respect. Much of this type of behavior is the result of low self-esteem and a desire to be loved and accepted by others. One of the best things a newly-successful person can do is to take assertiveness training. This training will help in becoming self-directed rather than “other-directed” and will allow a person to say “no” with confidence, firmness, and no guilt.
Relationships are Strained
Coming into fame and success changes all of the dynamics of personal relationships. The publicity, the new lifestyle, the demands, and the pressures all put a strain on long-standing relationships. Couples get divorced; parents and children become estranged; long-term friendships break up. It’s hard for a new success to remain who she/he was before this huge change. The recipient of the fame and success can attempt to exert new power and control over others in his/her life; communication breaks down. The wise person will see this coming and will get the counseling help needed. Often, this means simply developing better methods of communication, and these are skills that can be learned.
Leadership may be Demanded
Especially with young entrepreneurs who find themselves instantly successful because of a new piece of software or app, suddenly there is a business enterprise to establish and run. There are people to employ and to lead. Here is a “computer geek,” rather an introverted loner, who is suddenly thrust into the role of leader with absolutely no leadership background or skills. Businesses fail when there is no leadership; a huge business success today can become just a fleeting memory when another talented “geek” creates an app that outdoes the current trendy one. Anyone thrust into this new position of leadership must get training and get it fast. And part of that training will be in making the best decisions in securing professional advice and in employing the right people.
Mark Zuckerberg was not a businessman when he founded Facebook and soared onto the scene. But he had enough “smarts” to know that he had to surround himself with the right people and develop the leadership skills that would move his team and his company to the next levels.
The thought of instant success is a dream that many of us have. We want to be like Cinderella – to have it all come crashing down on us in an instant and to spend the rest of our lives “basking in the sunshine.” But, if we don’t have restraint, rational thinking, the ability to set long-term goals, people skills, and ability to say “no,” failure will come crashing down just as fast. When your focus turns inward to making yourself a better leader, communicator, influencer and visionary, your entire world will change. Your success will be sweet, exciting and manageable.
Photo credit: Andy Smith via flickr