Popular vs. Powerful: The One Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

There’s a huge difference between being popular and being powerful. Unfortunately, these two concepts get jumbled frequently. The error is easy enough to make. Powerful people are often very visible. So, inexperienced onlookers mistakenly aim to replicate only the win – rather than the work and know-how that it takes to get that win.

Read that last sentence over and let it absorb.

As a consequence of this delusion, a lot of rookies will want: the privileges, the magazine covers, the television appearances, the fans, the big contracts, the awards, the millions of dollars, the vacations, the respect, and basically, something very immature – the bragging rights. All without earning it, without hitting the pavement, without once considering the plan!

After all, what is your idea? How are you going to do it? What is the business model exactly? Years ago, I had one roommate, a fellow artist, that talked frequently about “blowing up,” i.e. getting famous. “Blow up how?” I’d ask. “I dunno, I’m just gonna make it,” he’d reply. Needless to say, he didn’t. It’s not entirely his bad though. We’ve been trained by institutions and society at large to value the image of success instead of the road leading to it.

I ask my mentees all the time, “What do you suppose would happen if you got into a car and just drove, without a map, without a destination?” We all intuitively know the answers. Their replies come back quickly: “You’d get lost.” “You’d gas out.” “You’d get into an accident.” And so it is with lots of artists and entrepreneurs. If you aren’t vigilant, your dreams will go adrift into what businessman MJ DeMarco calls lifestyle servitude – wasting time, maneuvers, and resources, relinquishing true mastery and freedom for the mere illusion of being a boss, chasing into the desert after a mirage.

The next time you are inspired to pursue a goal, consider what you will need to pack for the metaphorical trip. Often times, I find, regardless of career choice, that we could all use a little more business savvy, financial literacy, communications skills, management proficiency, and overall personal discipline, among all the other specifics required for our respective journeys.

That might mean going lean on the extras, staying in, fumbling outside of your comfort zone, admitting you don’t know everything, falling down, getting up, learning entirely new skills, listening more than talking, introducing yourself to strangers, and possibly embarrassing yourself a few times along the way – for (literally) thousands of hours over the course of a lifetime.

To put it plainly, there are no shortcuts to longevity. It’s important that we build a lasting infrastructure over getting seduced by the temporary shine. I mean, I’d rather be a real king than some schmuck with a crown. How about you?


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2 responses to “Popular vs. Powerful: The One Mistake You Don’t Want To Make”

  1. Thank you for this Anthem, I think this is something we’ve been talking about too, no? There are folks who make all kinds of noise, and when you get past the noise, there really isn’t a lot there to behold.

    Anyway, I’ve also been experiencing that folks who claim they want certain things – skills, opportunities, for example, when these opportunities arise, they don’t take it.

    I’m sure this is also partly due to fear of failure, or seeing that expectations and actual work involved don’t sync up, or seeing that it’s a lot harder than it looked like it was going to be?

    • Hey Barbara,
      You bring up a lot of interesting points about artists and their relationship with career longevity – or their lack of relationship with career longevity.

      In fact, plenty of what ART OF HUSTLE is about hinges on the ideas in this very post and on the observations in your comment. I find the two forces at play are: 1. the systemic and worldwide myths of the lives of arts professionals, and 2. Yes, the fear of having to update one’s identity and understanding of the work when they do realize what’s required of them.

      Forgive the pop culture metaphor but it’s like the saboteur from The Matrix that didn’t want to wake up because freedom meant having to work for it. People can only snap to when they’re ready.

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