Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confusing Service with Fame

In Oprah’s last episode, she said some words that outlined a current cultural trend that people can see, but aren’t really talking about. Her words were, “We’re all confused about fame versus service.” Though she didn’t elaborate, the trend that she is referring to is evident in the way that Tyrese (Why can’t he just shut up, sing and be fine?!), Steve Harvey and even Monique have rebranded themselves as self-help gurus. 

Obviously, they would not have reached the level of success that they did without actually reaching someone with their advice, but are their intentions completely genuine, or are they just seeking to extend their fame? The self-help industry is booming. With so many people looking to launch careers as entertainers, and the internet making it increasingly difficult to make money off of music and movies, these stars are turning to another outlet to ensure their success and keep their names in the papers. 

But this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to celebrities. Regular folks are doing it too. On Twitter and Facebook, self-styled gurus are everywhere. Folks who you know aren’t that positive in real life become Tony Robbins in their news feed. We want to be validated for being "deep," "positive," "conscious," or "awake." That validation often comes at the expense of everyone else: those who aren't so "evolved." And therein lies the problem.

It's not real service when we're using it to just to validate ourselves. We can't all be the next Oprah or Iyanla. My sense of self-worth doesn't have to be dependent on other people being beneath me and needing my insight to heal themselves.

I witnessed this same need for notoriety even when I was a grant writer. People would start nonprofits for their own personal benefit; it was more about ego and less about service. Having a foundation is almost trendy. While I think that many people may have some genuinely altruistic intentions, I think the desire to be lauded as a "hero" overshadows their will to do the grunt work that comes with community service.

Real nonprofit work is anything but glamorous. It's hard, with lots of long hours, minimal resources and, in many, cases, intense scrutiny from funders. It can be gratifying, but it isn't easy. Generally speaking, helping people isn't. 

Frankly, I've always been leery of folks who say, without provocation, "I like to help people," or "I'm always helping people." If you're really about service, you just do it. You don't need to advertise it when no one is asking. 

So check yourself when you're gloating about your accomplishments. Are you really the person in the stories you tell? Or the tweets you tweet? Is that really you? Beware of the self-proclaimed heroes and prophets who seem more concerned with kudos and profits. See how that was deep AND it rhymed? Share it with your children.


  1. Very well stated. It may sound bad on my part but as soon as a celebrity comes out "trying" to be a guru I instantly lose interest in whatever profession they're in. Why? Because I feel as though it is about the success of their brand and less about helping the people that listen to them. I try to learn from everyone around me and if I find something that maybe helpful I spread what I learn and site the source. It's not about the recognition or at least it shouldn't be. It should clearly be about wanting to truly be what God wants us to be, help aids and help mates to the human kind. (MY OPINION OF COURSE) If we all took the time to help one another and not worry about if and when recognition will follow, I think we'd then find we don't have to brand ourselves because actions speak louder than words. And what is for me is for me and I definitely won't get it by using someone else. Sunset you definitely made me think!

  2. Glad I made you think, Mel! And I'm so glad you brought up "branding." So many folks out there trying to brand themselves, and the message gets lost...It really is a shame.