Recently I was out for dinner with my wife and my brother-in-law. We were eating in a family friendly restaurant, so we were surrounded by young families out celebrating one birthday or another.
Across from our table was one such family, and as I cast my eye across the room, my attention was caught by one of the children sat at their table. She was probably around six or seven years old, and her t-shirt said in big, bold letters: “I WANT TO BE FAMOUS.”
The aspiration to fame is hardly a rarity these days, but I think we’re slowly awakening to the truth that fame can’t possibly be all that it’s cracked up to be. ITV’s flagship talent show, The X Factor, is experiencing a decline in viewers (as well as quality), while the world watches in a mixture of horror and amazement as the Kardashians somehow make international news time and again merely by posting selfies.
I must admit that as a teenager my dream was to be a world famous rock star. I was sure that I was going to be the next Eddie Van Halen. Thankfully, after a bad experience of digestive distress while on tour in Europe the trajectory of my life changed and I left my desire for fame behind.
That slogan on the young girl’s t-shirt had quite an effect on me. I was shocked that this was the kind of aspiration being built into our children, although really I should have come to expect such things by now. I just can’t help asking the question: “Why?” Why are we so obsessed with fame for fame’s sake, and what will happen when children like the one I saw at dinner grow up and discover that they can’t all be famous?
As I reflect on my own former desire for fame, there was one clear reason behind it all: recognition. Irish pop-rock outfit The Script accurately express the desire of a generation to be “standing in the hall of fame, and the world’s going to know your name”. I used to daydream about acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies, interviews on TV and features about me in all the magazines. Somewhere inside me, I assumed that those things were what I needed to fulfil me and make me feel like a success, like my life was worth something.
What changed for me wasn’t just the European illness, but the recognition which came with it, that what I really wanted in life – what would really constitute success for me – was simply to make a difference in whatever way I can. Being a loving husband, a good father eventually, and helping people discover that they are valued far more than they think – those things are far more important to me than fame.
I don’t know if that girl will ever be famous. I don’t want to pass judgment on her or her parents who bought her that t-shirt. Even so, I hope that she and others like her grow up to discover their value as people, famous or otherwise.