Our oldest son is almost exactly 18 months older than his brother. As we slowly get used to being a family of four, tons of thoughts float through my head. I think a ton about my sons, their health, their happiness, their futures.
On Saturday afternoon, I heard about the death of Antonin Scalia. If you’ve been anywhere near the news, you know how polarizing Justice Scalia was, and how political the reactions to his death have been.
For 99.999% of people who knew Antonin Scalia, when they hear his name, they think Supreme Court Justice. His death was covered exactly the same way. A few minutes were taken to offer condolences to his family, then the analysis turned to the vacancy on the court, President Obama’s nomination of a new justice, the confirmation process to follow, et cetera.
That’s the price of notoriety. It doesn’t matter how deeply his family loved him, or how great a father or grandfather he was, or all the individual lives he touched. What mattered was that he was a Supreme Court Justice with polarizing views, whose absence on the bench will have enormous consequences.
I’m sure Justice Scalia was comfortable with this reality. He knew what came with being a Justice. Here’s why it makes me a little sad, thinking of my sons’ futures.
I want my sons to do great things. I want them to be happy and to feel fulfilled. I want them to contribute. I want them to make the world a better place, no matter if they help tens of people or millions of people. I’ll be happy if I can given them a chance to open as many doors for themselves as they’d like.
With all that said, I think about the price of notoriety. It doesn’t have to be a position with as much consequence as Supreme Court Justice. It can be a musician. Or an actor. Or a sculptor. Or a philosopher.
Every profession has its celebrities. The better you get, the more notoriety you’ll gather. With notoriety comes a flattening of your personality. In the eyes of others, you become a one-dimensional creature who excels, and lives, exclusively in a particular area.
Your family and friends will always know you for more than that. You’re a whole person to them, with all the highs and lows that come with being human. With increasing notoriety, though, you have to balance this private life, where people treat you as a person, against your professional life, where people treat you as a static entity who has already done its best work.
I’m not arguing to avoid notoriety. The opposite, in fact. Notoriety almost certainly means you’ve accomplished something incredible. What I’m arguing is to keep what makes you…you.
At a time like this, when you’re working through an important career inflection, there’s incentive to be one-dimensional. There’s incentive to guess what people want you to say and do, and then try to say and do exactly those things. You want to hide your weaknesses and emphasize your strengths.
At a very high level, all of that makes sense. You want to impress the people that hold sway over your career progression. Know, though, that the challenge, in the end, will be to surround yourself with people who value you as you. To find the career where you don’t have to hide yourself, or mute yourself, or transform yourself as you walk in and out of the door.
As you achieve more and more, notoriety will inevitably follow. Others will see you as the esteemed executive, or the sharp manager, or the clever analyst. Your friends and family will continue to see you as you.
Don’t let the one-dimensional stereotypes constrain you. Not everyone is going to know you personally. Not everyone is going to appreciate who you are, and how all the pieces make up a complete person. That’s okay.
Life is too short, and too rich, to be a caricature. Be yourself, and enjoy all the wins you’ll have as a result.