I’ll define “famous” for the purposes of this post: You’re notable for some reason. Maybe your family lineage. Maybe someone you’re associated with. You’re recognized in public by random people, probably because you’ve been on TV.
When I was striving to start my pro basketball career, I would see players who had sat on the benches of NCAA D1 teams for four years get offers to play professionally overseas while I was being ignored. These players had shown no ability to play — they had been on the bench waving a towel the whole time — but teams wanted them simply because of the name on the resume.
Most of these guys didn’t last long in the pros. Turns out they had been on the bench for a reason. Yes, even at a D1 school.
I know some famous people who have business coming their way simply because they’re famous. Make an appearance here. Come speak here. We’d like to interview you!
Many of them are not good at what they’re doing outside of the thing that made them famous. In the professional speaking business, for example, I see a lot of ex-athletes with cliche diarrhea being booked for events. Makes business sense — people will pay to see the famous guy or girl even if they have nothing useful to say, and event halls aren’t free. Seth Godin called it the “frisson of celebrity” that runs off on the audience that makes it worth the price of admission.
As of this writing, I’m not famous yet. I’m somewhat known — there is a pocket of the population who are familiar with me — but I can still walk up and down Lincoln Road in Miami Beach by myself and not be stopped by anyone.
Which means for me to get that stage, photo shoot, overseas offer or interview, I have to actually be good.
I must deliver substance, and lots of it. Consistently. Since I’m not famous, just being in the same room as me isn’t worth the price of the ticket. Yet.
Fame + No Substance = You’ll be around for awhile, but ultimately underwhelming. You can build substance, but humans are human: when you already have fame, building substance is hard, tedious work. For what? They think.
No Fame + Substance = Potential to be great as you can build fame via substance. Many examples of this exist
No Fame + No Substance = Find something else to do with your time. This isn’t it.
Now, when you combine famous + substance, magic happens. Think a basketball player who is both super-talented and willing to work hard. The result is Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant. There are many talented players who don’t work very hard, but they keep getting jobs – this might be the time! – and many hard working players who only get jobs because of that substance.
What all this means: if you’re not famous, develop substance. Which means, something you offer that cannot be acquired elsewhere. This can be experience, knowledge, mental toughness, leadership, etc. Figuring what this unique angle is is your job.
If you find yourself in competition with the famous, play the game on your field: make it about substance and not notoriety. It wouldn’t hurt to be obvious about it. It is your competitive edge, after all. And winning gets you remembered.