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Handling the side-effects of fame

Having one’s personal and professional life under the microscope can lead to an inability to rest

Often, fame and a sense of imposter syndrome go hand in hand.
Often, fame and a sense of imposter syndrome go hand in hand. (iStockphoto)

A 31-year-old male who’s at the pinnacle of fame tells me: “I have always wanted and desired this popularity. Yet now when I have it all, I realise I don’t want it. On some days, I want to go back to the life I had before I got famous. Don’t get me wrong, fame meant money, more work but it also means that each move I make is being watched and I feel like I am constantly under scrutiny. I can no longer figure out who my true friends are and whether people are keeping in touch just because I am famous. I am constantly anxious and unhappy. I don’t tell anyone this because people would feel that it’s a privileged thing to say, now that I have it all, but the truth is I have never felt so lonely before.” 

Fame, and its side effects, make it to a lot of therapy sessions. What’s fascinating from a therapist’s lens is the desire for fame and subsequent recognition that it comes at a price. Over the last eight years, with social media platforms, the narrative of fame has gained more prominence. The possibilities of quick fame, influencer status and then verified status, have impacted the chase for fame and the desire to achieve the level of popularity that accompanies it. 

At its core, fame is about being known and liked by large numbers of people. It’s linked to being appreciated and validated for one’s work and achievements. What underlies fame is a belief that life will get easier, work can progress at a much faster pace and there will be perks, such as invites to exclusive events, prestige, a change in social status and the knowledge that one is being celebrated. 

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My experience has been that very often people come to believe that fame will allow them to feel more loved, less lonely and have better relationships. People feel they will have better work-life integration and will have to struggle less. Based on my experience with clients, though, I can tell you that while fame allows people to feel special and desired, it doesn’t lead to long-term satisfaction and happiness. People who have achieved a fair bit of fame talk about how it’s a goal that one never ever reaches fully, with the goalposts changing at a rapid rate. As a client once put it, “The more fame you attain, the less happy you become because now the goal has shifted to how can one sustain this and reach higher levels. You become acutely aware of the competition and it seems the rewards, how your audience looks at you, all of it is extrinsic and beyond your control.” 

Fame is fickle; recognising this early on is important. The anxiety that one needs to stay relevant and constantly produce work, accompanies fame. Everyone who has been in the spotlight knows that their personal and professional lives are constantly under a microscope; this leads to hypervigilance and an inability to rest. It may seem counter-intuitive but very often fame and a sense of imposter syndrome go hand in hand. 

We know long-lasting happiness is linked to the meaning our work offers and the trust we feel in significant intimate relationships where we experience reciprocity, love, acceptance and a feeling of understanding. Our well-being is linked to how much we can pause, reflect, develop capacity for attentive presence and contentment. Fame can be addictive, so it doesn’t allow for any of this, because people worry that if they choose to do any of these, someone will replace them.

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Learning how to carry fame lightly and being mindful is crucial for well-being. A quote attributed to actor Marilyn Monroe captures this sentiment: “Fame doesn’t fulfil you. It warms you a bit but that warmth is temporary.”

Heart of the Matter is a fortnightly column about emotionall well-being by Sonali Gupta, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health With Sonali

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