When I was a kid, I thought being famous had to be the best job in the world: everyone taking your picture, clamoring for your autograph and hanging on your every word. Never a moment of insecurity or doubt about your self-worth or inherent awesomeness.
I remember my last night as a grade-schooler, unable to sleep as I pondered my upcoming first day on the big bad junior high campus. Instead of the same familiar pack of munchkins I’d been running with since kindergarten, I’d now be forced to meet an entire legion of new students.
And I was terrified.
In the midst of my angst, I actually had the thought, “I wish I could wake up famous tomorrow. Then everyone would already know and like me.”
I was absolutely convinced that if I were Brooke Shields (the gold standard of teen stardom at the time), I wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of trying to fit in, saying something idiotic or just flat-out being disliked.
Thankfully, I outgrew the naïve notion that “recognition = adoration” long before the internet and social media took public scrutiny to a stratospheric level.
And while it’s tempting to complain about the TMZ-style world we live in today, there is a proverbial silver lining to the often-moronic tidal wave of reality show starlets, viral videos and vitriolic rants:
It’s proof that the gatekeepers are done for good.
And so is your excuse for remaining invisible.
You no longer have to genuflect in the presence of movie studios, radio stations or art galleries, begging them to anoint you as a legitimate artist.
But as the barriers that keep your work from being shared with the world dissolve, so do the walls that keep you shielded from criticism that ranges from the mildly disheartening (actual review for my first short film: “That’s 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”) to aggressively hateful.
The fact is, if you’ve got something to offer the world, you’re going to have to deal with online trolls who are more than happy to announce that your novel was apparently written by an orangutan with a MacBook Pro and your abstract canvas looks like a sewage explosion.
And I’ve found the best way to handle the hate is to have empathy for those that dish it out.
No, I did not misspell “Twitter war.” I actually do mean empathy.
And here’s why.
These are people that have opted to spend their precious time and energy on a mission to seek and destroy. And their target isn’t something they despise, but rather something they desperately wish they had:
The courage to offer their gifts to the world, and to keep on doing it, whether the response is kudos or condemnation.
Your book, film, blog or painting may not be their cup of tea. But the fact that they opt to attack – rather than simply ignore – your creation signals a human being burdened by regrets and hammered by creative Resistance.
Someone imprisoned by fear of failure, success, or both.
Simultaneously facing the dread of taking – or not taking – that first step toward a dream.
And in my book, living that way is suffering enough.
So, the next time snarky or scathing words are lobbed at you, consider the source.
Allow yourself a moment to be angry, annoyed or even amused.
Then let it go.
And give thanks.
Because you, too, could be hiding behind a screen name instead of making a name for yourself.