“A life without fame can be a good life, but fame without a life is no life at all.” - Clive James
I remember in elementary school once taking an entire rainy Saturday to practice my signature.
A pen and a brand new notebook, page after page of all different styles of lettering, sizing, loops, and flourishes: SCOTT TODNEM.
How should the's' look? When do the 't's' get crossed? What about all the letters at the end... script them out or trail off in a cool looking line? What would Michael Jordan do?
Come on, 5th grade Scott, how will you brand yourself once you're rich and famous and all these people in the world want your autograph?
And then it hit me. What if I don't grow up to be famous?
Will all this effort in perfecting my signature prove to be futile come adulthood? Surely I'll hit it big with something-- sports, music, all around awesomeness. Right? Right?!
I went to bed realizing the fruitlessness of the hours spent that day. I think some aging piece deep within wrestled my ego down from its pedestal and settled me into a vision of future mediocrity. And at that point I was confused if that hit of reality was reassuring or if it was downright disappointing. After some major pre-teen introspection, I came to something of a conclusion that it would be okay if I wasn't famous. That maybe I'd probably be better off, in fact-- I could have privacy if I wanted; I could walk down the street without being swarmed. I had seen footage of athletes and pop stars traveling the globe and thought it was amazing how nearly every single person in the world could know someone by name. It was strangely unifying how one human being could shrink the planet to the scale of grade school recess. To have a name and a face so recognizable that you skip the pleasantries of "Hi, how're you doing?" and move right on to the important stuff.
"Can I have your autograph?"
Fame. Fortune. Enough where people know you. Even in places with little to no technology, people know you.
Yet in that fame-filled life I also saw some scary things. I saw stress and panic and so much celebrity that simple tasks could never be completed. Errands? No. Shopping? Nope. A family trip to an amusement park? No way. Big ticket items in public would never fly.
Now, especially after the advent of the internet, which itself continues to feed and overfeed the possibility that someone can be famous just for being famous, among many other things fame and fortune means body guards, paparazzi, private weddings, and very public lives. It means covering up in a hat and sunglasses to get the mail. Actually, it means never getting your own mail. It means never driving a car to go grocery shopping, never going to a quiet dinner and a movie. Never mowing your own lawn or cooking your own food.
Never going for a walk with a loved one to enjoy the early morning air or the late night sky.
Years later, there's a satisfaction in living life and experiencing all these things that the world has to offer without the fear of being mauled by strangers. Would more money buy happiness? Sure it would. Or at least it could, in some ways. But there's a non-monetary reward for learning how to work, learning how to interact with people, and learning how to deal with disappointment and be humble in success. There are certainly rich and famous citizens of this world who have not been given everything, who have worked hard and fought tooth and nail for every luxury they have. Yet I am grateful that my family and I are able to simultaneously live with others around us without the blessing/curse of gigantic fame.
After working in public education for years and teaching or coaching now thousands of children and families, there's enough notoriety walking around town to be recognized here and there. This is by far a different experience than what I imagine the life of a celebrity would be like, and in many cases is simply a smile and a wave accompanied with a quick conversation.
Knowing someone personally is the gift here. No autograph required.
Although, if needed, I still have my kid signature all ready to go.