Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Secret of Success: Stop Trying to Be Famous

A friend of mine who’s a millionaire told me this story:

For years, all I wanted was to be known. I would’ve done anything — ANYTHING — to get you to recognize me. I thought that was all that mattered. But it wasn’t until I stopped caring about being famous that I really started to succeed.

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, especially in a culture where we often equate fame with success? But, friends, the two are rarely the same.

Success or Fame

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Entrepreneur Brian Clark recently tweeted about this, saying that some of the smartest people he knows are low-profile people. I agree. In fact, the inverse is often true: The most influential people are rarely the smartest or most gifted; they’re just really good at building influence.

Scary, isn’t it, that the most trusted voices in your industry may not be the best ones to listen to? Makes me wonder if pursuing fame is all it’s cracked up to be. And I bet I’m not alone.

So what do we do about this? Great question.

First: Ask, “Do I want to be famous or successful?”

Of course, success doesn’t have to mean making money; it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Except fame.

The world is full of famous people who haven’t done anything significant. We don’t need another Kardashian. We need more than charisma; we need your contribution, your art, your gift to the world.

So let’s assume you decide that success is more important than fame. What now?

Second: Fall in love with the work, not the results

Humans are terrible at recognizing genius when it’s in front of them. It often takes us years to ignore the best sellers and catch on to true brilliance.

Vincent van Gogh didn’t reach the peak of his fame until after his death. James Joyce (voted one of the Top 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century) was called “unintelligible” by contemporaries. Harper Lee only wrote one book — the only one she needed to write.

So what do we artists, who sometimes obsess with accolades, do? We stop creating for results and learn to embrace the love of the work itself. Because the work, after all, is the reward.

Third: Hone your craft

In this world of platforms and instant connection to everyone, the stakes for creating great work have never been higher. Because it’s so easy to game the system, to trick your way into influence without actually doing anything remarkable, we have to be careful.

We have to avoid the temptation of fame and instead do the quiet work that leads to true success. [Tweet]

This is not easy or efficient, but it’s what’s required if you want to leave a legacy. If you want to do work that makes a difference long after you’re receiving royalty checks.

You need to sit down, shut up, and reach your 10,000 hours of practice.

Does this mean you can’t blog or publish your work or do anything until then? Of course not. Just don’t focus on the promotion when you should be getting better. Because all those tweets and posts and shouting matches take energy, energy that you should be spending on the work. Not the marketing.

And once you’ve practiced and honed and created a lot of crap (because we need to do bad work before we can do good work), make your contribution. And then, my friend, you can die.

What’s your goal: success or fame? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.