Why Do Millennials Want to be Famous?

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Quick Takes:

  • Fame has evolved over the years
  • Millennials interpret the desire for self-actualization as the need for fame
  • Rather than focusing on becoming famous, focus on becoming impactful
  • Use social status as a motivating factor to have exponentially positive experiences

Let’s unpack this for a second. Why is it that so many people want to be famous, and why are so many of them millennials?

My mother - yes, I often consult with my mom, get over it - brought up an interesting point. In today’s world of Vine celebrities and Instagram models, the millennial generation (my generation), has grown up with the lowest barrier to fame. In previous lifetimes, to become famous, a person would have to be a politician, rockstar, movie star, orator, or athlete. Although, even athletes weren’t quite as famous as they are now. Thank you, ESPN.

So, the desire to be famous has long been wrapped in higher social status, and some would argue higher purpose. Sure, fame itself could be the driving factor behind a politician's or rockstar’s ambition, but the fact remains, a “traditionally” famous person would still be part of a “traditionally" higher class of society. That’s not to say, however, that all politicians or rockstars or movie stars or athletes are altruistic people who want to use their influence for good. But, we revere them anyway, because for the most part, we never truly believe we can reach their echelon.

Without the gift of gab, musical ability, stage presence, or physical prowess, there’s no way that we could share the same limelight as traditionally famous people, which, of course, adds to our reverence of them. Up until now, fame had been a pipe dream except for a select few. But, with today's near infinite platforms and content distribution channels, people sitting on their couch are just a few steps away from being as famous as the Mik Jaggers of the world. All it takes is a little bit of luck and hard work.

Fame Isn't Easy, Or is it?

We’ve established that it’s easier to become famous today than at any other point in history. To start, it’s probably best to define what fame is, in modern terms. Put bluntly, fame is exposure. Becoming famous is becoming “known" by society. It’s the act of entering our collective unconscious so we feel like we know you, even though we’ve never met you. Essentially, you’ve become a member of our “100 person tribe,” a recognizable character in life’s narrative.

Today’s fame is also somewhat fleeting. It can be argued that many years ago, famous people were those who directly advanced humanity, a’la Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. The pioneering of ideas and thought allowed famous people like them to withstand the test of time. But, that’s also due in large part to the vocation these people chose, and the series of events that preserved their teachings for more than 2,000 years. There could have been more intelligent people, and people more famous during their time, but for whatever reason, records of their existence have been destroyed or lost.

The fact remains that those who we remember from early written times are those who advanced humanity. An altruistic result, even if it wasn’t the intended goal. As we move through history, we see that every famous person we celebrate is one who had a direct influence on the course of history. Charlemagne, Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, George Washington, Winston Churchill, the list is boundless.

Then, and perhaps because of the genesis of instant communication, both visual and audible, fame began to shift. The famous orators and leaders of yesteryear gave way to the Clark Gables and Beatles of the world. Sure, modern leaders were still considered famous (see Winston Churchill), but it would be hard to argue that any contemporary was more famous than the Beatles. This gave rise to what’s now known as popular culture, or pop-culture.

With pop-culture, fame moved away from impact and toward recognizability. Today, the simple fact that a person’s on TV is enough validation to make them famous. Think the Kardashians. What have they done really? Yet sadly, their horrific youtube video garnered hundreds of thousands of views in less than a month. I doubt hundreds of thousands of millennials have read the teachings of Seneca, making the Kardashians, in the modern sense, more famous than one of the greatest teachers in human history.

So where does that leave us millennials? 

The desire to be “known" is one of the biggest motivating factors of our generation. We, as a generation, have grown up intertwined with social media, on-demand movies, and one-click shopping experiences. The speed in which the world now moves, the noise that it produces, and the ease in which we live our lives, has left something to be desired. We no longer have to worry about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, every need being fulfilled save for one: actualization.

And, perceiving that fame is a way to fulfill that final need, our generation now seeks stardom more than ever before. We desire for our voice to be heard, and given how loud and distracting life has become, the only way to rise above the din is to stand on a platform of fame. But, with fame now a fleeting occurrence, based more on Twitter followers than actual merit, millennials are chasing the wrong type of actualization, leaving us as empty as when we started.

Fame Doesn’t Equal Purpose

Don’t blame us. Growing up with 800 Facebook friends (psh, only 800?) has changed the way we view human connection. We feel the need for some sort of higher purpose, and since evolution has taught us that human interaction and contribution to the tribe fulfills such purpose, we turn around in modern times and search for those connections. Except today, those interactions place less weight on the value of the interaction and more weight on the amount of surface-level interactions we have.

Which means, from a misguided point of view, millennials subconsciously believe that by increasing their network from 1 to 1 million, they’ll find the happiness they seek. But, ask anyone who’s gone down that route, and they’ll tell you how external it ends up becoming. It turns into a constant chase for outside validation, helping people forget what truly matters: internal self-love and impactful experiences.

Fame is fleeting and unfulfilling, and even Marcus Aurelius himself, who lived during the lauded time of traditional fame, stated: “How many, after being celebrated by fame have been given up to oblivion; and how many who have celebrated the fame of others have long been dead?"

Morbid, as usual, but Aurelius points out the crux of the problem: fame isn’t everlasting. We millennials, who are searching for a purpose to fill the void left by our need of actualization, seek to plug the hole with something as strong as sand. As soon as you receive social status it’s gone, like sand through your fingers, and you’re left with the same void as before. Only this time it’s worse, because you had assumed purpose, and therefore happiness, would come as a result of that status.

So, in essence, our generation seeks a fleeting moment of, what really? Joy? Happiness? Only to find that social status doesn’t fulfill self-actualization, and that their 800 Facebook friends aren’t their friends at all (shocker!).

Pursue Impact and Let the Fame Follow

Instead, and you guessed it, we should be pursing impact over status. The value of positively impacting a single person’s life should outweigh the desire to have 1,000 people laud you for a random accomplishment. At the end of the day, that’s what’s everlasting, the ability to change a person’s life for the better.

It’ll start a domino effect, where that person will take your advice and pass it along to the next person in need, and so on and so forth. After a while, and without consciously knowing it, you’ll have affected enough people that you’ll have truly made a positive difference. And while it might not get you on The Tonight Show, it’ll help you leave a legacy that can become multi-generational.

Because that’s all we want, right? At the end of the day (no pun intended), we’re only alive on this rock for but a short time, and we all  have an animalistic desire to survive. To outlive our life expectancy. Up to this point, we’ve misinterpreted that desire to outlive ourselves as the need to be famous. The need to have thousands of Facebook friends and hundreds of Instagram likes (my picture got triple digit likes! …who cares, dude) disguises our true need: to be remembered.

So, if we ditch the desire to be famous and instead focus on impactful experiences, our final need can be fulfilled. Think about how good you feel when you help a friend in need. It’s energizing, intoxicating almost. Now, that feeling is fleeting just like the feeling of fame, but it’s exponentially positive, meaning that a single interaction compounds into multiple positive interactions, sustaining your energy.

And let’s be honest, fame is alluring. I want people to know who I am as much as the next person. Why do you think I bang away at my keyboard every day hoping someone will read what I have to say? But, if you put impact first, and focus on it with ferocious tenacity, the fame and social status will most likely come, and it will be based on something you can be proud of.

Then, when you do become famous, or achieve high social status, it will be based on pure impact, and it will give you a platform to spread your message. Then, and only then, will fame cease to be sand and will instead become a solid base to build your purpose. That’s when actualization is achieved. That’s when you truly matter.

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