A peril of writing about famous people is that eventually they nearly all make you look bad.
Take Jeff Bezos. I’ve written about his two-way door rule. About his two-pizza teams. About his advice on making the kinds of choices that let you live a life with fewer regrets. Useful tips. Useful strategies.
Successful people are successful for a reason, and those reasons can be borrowed. Why try to reinvent the wheel when a perfectly good wheel exists?
But then Bezos decides to slap on a cowboy hat — the apetheosis of “all hat, no cattle” — and say something stupid after his space flight like, “I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”
And then I get emails asking questions like, “How’s your boy Bezos looking now?”
Actually, for such a smart guy he looks pretty tone-deaf; if there were approval ratings for entrepreneurs, Bezos’s probably dipped by at least ten points.
A few years ago I spoke to Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Synyster Gates about the nature of confidence. Guitar World listed him in its top 20 guitarists of the previous decade. Yet he struggles with imposter syndrome. M. Shadows, the band’s singer, is “incredibly intelligent and extremely extroverted, yet he gets the most nervous out of everyone in the band.”
As Syn says, “In the end, everyone is some sort of f-ed up.”
Including you. Definitely including me.
We’re all some sort of f-ed up.
And we know it. So we try to be more sensitive to the frailties and shortcomings of the people around us. We try to be more considerate when people we know struggle. We try to be more compassionate when people we know fall short in some way.
Yet we don’t extend that same courtesy to public figures. For some reason we expect their every thought, word, and action to align with our own perspectives, politics, and values.
If not, as Roxanne Gay writes, “If a mistake is made, it becomes immediate proof of being beyond redemption.”
Even though a mistake — especially not knowing that occasionally the people most deserving of your gratitude are also the last people you should publicly thank — is just a mistake.
Most of us were taught to give feedback focused on the situation, issue, or behavior and not the person. The same holds true for the tips, tools, and strategies we adopt from successful people. Bezos can be strategically intelligent and yet, at times, totally lacking in emotional intelligence.
One does not negate the other.
Because we’re all some sort of f-ed up.
Because what matters isn’t where a perfectly good wheel comes from; what matters is whether adopting that wheel will work for you.