Why Be Famous?

What does it feel like to be “famous”, what are the benefits of fame? Is it desirable to be famous, or actually harmful/negative? Let me share some of my perspectives being an “internet famous” photographer.


Okay so upfront, it’s “net positive” for me to be internet famous. Why? It has opened up a lot of doors for me, which have led to interesting experiences (traveling, teaching workshops internationally, giving talks all around the globe), meeting cool people (so many interesting people I’ve met through photography, through random business connections or through my own workshops), and of course I have much more leverage (social proof, being an “influencer” I think is more important than being rich, in terms of your “social power”).

Fame/influence is one of those funny things that you cannot buy; so in a sense fame is better than money. A philosophical question (assuming you can only have one): would you rather be rich and unknown, or famous and poor?

For example, Gandhi was “famous” but vowed a life of poverty. Obama isn’t poor (upper middle class in terms of his finances), but is one of the world’s most famous faces.

A lot of people on the internet (myself included) are famous, but don’t make that much money. For example currently I’m in the $100-200k yearly salary income bracket (combined income wirh Cindy) which is rich for 99.9% of the world, but I’m certainly not rich in comparison to my hedge fund manager friends, my surgeon friends, or venture capitalist friends.

But of course there are downsides to fame. Honestly, 99% of the downsides are mental (in yourself). For myself, the higher I flew, the more afraid I was of falling. When you accrue a certain number of followers, regardless of how many followers you have (whether 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10k, 20k, 50k, 100k, 200k, 1m, 2m, etc) seeing any negative dip is painful. 2,000 years ago there was a wise stoic saying (learned it from Seneca I think):

Pulling out a hair from a bald man (poor person) is as painful as pulling out a hair from a man with much hair (rich person).

It’s kind of how it would be more painful for someone worth 1 billion dollars to drop owning “only” 10 million dollars, compared to someone who is worth 1 million dollars dropping to being worth 500,000 dollars. What causes more psychological pain is the percentage drop, not the “absolute sum”. Kind of reminds me of the stock broker person worth 100 million dollars who committed suicide after losing 90 million dollars, leaving himself with “only” 10 million dollars to live on (oh, the shame, the shame!!!)

Anyways, this is what happens to you psychologically once you become “famous”: you end up becoming more risk-averse, which means, you stick to the “tried and true” formulas, and you stop innovating. You just end up repeating yourself, and end up boring yourself to death/feeling frustrated and lost.

For example let’s say you become famous for your black and white photography, or your street photography. If you suddenly stop shooting that way, and you start to share color family portraits, you’re going to start losing followers. And that is psychologically painful to everybody, no matter how famous, rich, or powerful you are.

I think in order to live the happiest and most epic and fulfilling life, we must seek to constantly innovate, to break new frontiers, and to discover new processes, tools, and technologies to drive ourselves and the human race forward! Ultimately I think innovation for the sake of innovation is worth it; especially if our innovations end up helping ourselves and others.

So once again, the danger of becoming famous is that you stop innovating. Steve Jobs was greatly inspired by the book, “The innovators dilemma” which tackles the similar problem: successful and big companies stop innovating, and end up fasting into obsolescence.

Personal heroes of mine

Some stories and people whom inspire me to constantly innovate, even in the face of opposition and self-doubt:

  1. Bob Dylan who went electric after making a name for himself signing protest songs on an acoustic guitar.
  2. Kanye West who started to autotune his voice and sing/rap when all rappers were doing “Gangsta” rap (808s and heartbreak album). Or when Kanye West made his “Yeezus” album, bridging the gap between rap and rock music (donning black leather jackets, and making beats with heavy metal guitar riffs).
  3. Steve Jobs who pushed for the iPhone even though he knew it would “cannibalize” their already popular iPod sales.

Anyways, I think the benefits of being famous are the following:

  1. You can build a popular platform to share positive messages, ideas, in order to empower others and society. The more famous you are, the more people you can influence, or have a higher likelihood of influencing another influential person.

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