“I love your work…”
“Wow, your life is so perfect…”
“You changed my life…”
Sounds great, right? All that praise and approval? Isn’t that just what you’ve always wanted?
So why do you have a horrible, sinking feeling in your stomach?
There are quite a few unexpected thoughts and feelings that can arise when you begin to be a successful public person:
“I’m a fraud.”
“Everyone thinks my life is perfect and it is SO not perfect – I feel awful.”
“Why is being so popular so exhausting?”
Don’t worry – you’re not crazy. You’re just dealing with a very wonderful problem.
Let’s take these one at a time:
You Are Not A Fraud. You’re Just A Bit Bored With Yourself.
Remember, your ideas are always going to seem old-hat to you, because they are YOUR ideas. You’ve thought of them already. You’ve been working on them for some time now. And as hunter-gatherers, our brains are always more interested in the Next Thing than they are in the Old Thing.
Of course your work is going to feel a little obvious to you. This doesn’t make you a fraud. It makes you an innovator. But while your ideas may seem old to you, they are Brand New to the rest of us.
Tip: Don’t let your fatigue interfere with our excitement about your work.
When It Looks Great From The Outside But Feels Icky From The Inside
It’s a very lonely feeling when everyone keeps congratulating you on how terrific your business is going while you know that you are totally broke.
Or that you and your partner have been fighting. Ugly fighting.
Or that you’re thinking about giving it all up and moving far away.
Or that you are struggling with depression, health issues, family crises or some other private hell.
But you were well-raised, so you slap a smile on your face and act like everything’s fine even though it’s killing you.
Guess what? That’s the exact right thing to do. (Almost.)
Here’s the thing: when you become a businessperson/artist/entrepreneur, you also become a public person. And for the most part, you get to manage the message that the public receives about you. You want that message to be strong, to be consistent with your branding, and most of all, you want that message to be about them: your clients.
(I know in this age of extreme personal disclosure the idea that you should not share the gritty truth of your daily journey may seem a tad radical.)
Your public persona needs to appear smooth, calm and professional, and you need to keep your personal heartbreaks to yourself. While you’re still in the whirlwind of change, confusion and pain, don’t tell anyone…Except of course, for the people who truly care about you.
When you are feeling the knife-twist of “looks-great-outside-feels-awful-inside,” it is vital that you get as much private help, support, therapy, counseling, best-friend-time, exercise, meditation, spiritual guidance and practical advice as possible. Assemble your team of trusted advisors and, in confidence, talk the situation out with them.
You may want to share your story with your public after the fact – once you can tell it without crying – because it may become an important milestone for you, an important “teaching moment” for others, and a heartwarming part of your corporate story
Tip: The pain you are in is a strong signal that something needs to change, so pay attention, do your research and be brave. Remember, honey, you won’t always feel this way.
The Burden of Celebrity
Susan was so excited to be the first speaker at the conference. She was pleased by the prestige and the exposure, and she knew her presentation would knock ‘em sideways.
And it did.
“For three straight days, people kept coming up to me at break, at lunch, even during other people’s talks, wanting to tell me how great my presentation was and how much it meant to them. It was exhausting and sort of embarrassing. I ended up scurrying to hide in my hotel room every chance I got, because I didn’t know how to handle the pressure,” she said.
Here’s the thing: when people are telling you about how wonderful you are, it isn’t really about you. It’s about them. It’s about the experience they want to have of you.
Even if they are there to deliver a compliment, the compliment isn’t really for you – after all, they are not giving you a compliment because they think you need one – they are giving you a compliment because they need to give one. Which is, at bottom, great news. We want people to want us, to be interested in what we have to say and to care when we’re in the room.
As a public person, we need to be prepared for an avalanche of attention that is based on everybody wanting something from you. Frankly, it can be something of a marathon.
Get a lot of rest. Drink lots of water. Don’t forget to eat food that is healthy and sustaining. Limit your time “on the floor” and if you can, it’s great to have a stage manager-ish person who can tell people that you need to take a break now, but that you’ll be available later on, or that they can submit questions online, or whatever.
Susan realized that being the star of the conference was a blessing and after that first experience she got better at marshalling her energy and staying present to greet her attentive fans. “After all,” she said, “I’d rather be tired from everyone wanting to talk to me than be wide awake and have no one care!”
Tip: Other people’s attention is a high-quality problem to have. Be generous. Be attentive. Be grateful.
Managing your private and public personas can be a bit of a tightrope walk, but just like an aerialist, keeping your head up, your eyes forward and a delightful Mona Lisa-smile on your face will help keep you in balance, no matter what else is happening in the circus around you.