Fighting the desire for fame and fortune

I became a designer for many reasons—a love of graphics and visuals, a natural attention to detail, interest in order hierarchy and organization. Recently, while thinking about the stoic view of fame and fortune, I began to think one of the underlying reasons I was drawn to design was to satisfy a desire somewhere inside me to be recognized and admired for being good at something; a natural and very human motivator. As I received praise for drawing and producing graphics a seed of desire was planted that was nurtured by art school and as I gained more confidence and received more and more praise. At some point along the way this desire for recognition, or fame, started to over shadow and distract me from truer forms of motivation to be a good designer.

It’s not that I’ve ever believed I would be a famous designer on par with the greats like Paul Rand or Massimo Vignelli or some of my modern heroes such as Elliot Jay Stocks, Ethan Marcotte or Jason Santa Maria. I do; however, definitely desire some level of professional fame similar to these people—and that is the wrong kind of goal I should have in order to live my life fully and in accordance with my true goals.

Wanting fame and fortune is in our evolutionary past and therefore part of our programming. In simpler, and more primal times being famous and wealthy; such as the alpha male within a community group, or a mob boss within organized crime; were necessary for survival and for reproducing. In modern times however those methods aren’t necessary for survival and can be a source of negative emotions, such as jealousy of others’ wealth and fear and anxiety of losing your fame or fortune. I’m neither famous or wealthy and I somehow have survived so far, and managed to get myself an amazing wife and healthy little family. The rational conclusion is these things aren’t worth pursuing.

This has been a challenging trait to change in myself. Adding to the difficulty with this desire is that it relates directly to my passion for design. Traditionally I’ve associated being a great designer with being a famous designer; one who receives lots of praise from his peers and is invited to speak at conferences. While I do believe that becoming a better designer will definitely contribute to my long term joy in life, I realize now that fame is merely a potential by-product of being great and that there are better parts of being a designer I can focus on that will contribute greater to becoming a better designer.

I’m still exploring what the implications on my career are, but I have a feeling that introducing a teaching element will give me a more lasting and satisfying enjoyment and likely improve my design skills. I also need to appreciate what I have more in order to shake this desire. I’m fortunate to even be a mediocre designer, get paid for it and enjoy it most of the time. In order to achieve the level of fame my design heroes have I would have to sacrifice a lot of my family time; and that is completely opposed to part of my primary goals.

By analyzing this desire I’ve been able to identify the root of it; the desire to be a great designer. Now I can internalize that by setting goals of being the best I can be, and setting aside reasonable amounts of time to improving my skills. I’m in more control of and more likely to reach that goal than I am of being invited to speak at a conference; so I’m already better off. The problem with fame is that relying on others to like you is not in your compete control and you are more likely to suffer in more meaningful areas of your life to achieve the goal.

This is a work in progress and I’d love to hear how other people have approached this topic in their careers.

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