When I first started Financial Samurai in 2009, I was proud of finally creating something. For too long, I had just followed orders. Yet, I couldn’t tell anybody about my hobby because I was still employed. I was afraid if my employer found out, they’d tell me to shut it down or at the very least, dock my bonus for being unfocused. After all, the site was started in the middle of the financial crisis and they were always looking for reasons to cut costs.
When I finally engineered my layoff three years later in 2012, I still felt it was unwise to tell anybody about my site even though I was internally beaming with pride about the site’s growth. I felt like a new parent who wanted to annoy the crap out of all his friends by cooing about every milestone their child hit.
But because I had five years of deferred compensation on the line, even if there was just a 1% chance my old employer would withhold payment, I didn’t want to risk losing years of living expenses. And so, I kept my mouth largely shut until I had a decision to make on 4/21/2017, when my last severance-related after-tax payment hit my bank account.
In a way, the five-year time period when I was collecting my deferred compensation was like a mental jail. Like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption reaching for the stars as rain spatters his face, full emancipation only came years after leaving Corporate America.
With nothing holding me back in 2017, it would seem like finally, I could brag to everyone that I had created a website large enough to support a family in San Francisco. With some publicity would come growth. But alas, I felt it was much better to keep a low profile.
For those of you who are thirsty for attention, let me share some thoughts about being a nobody for so long and why it may be in your best interest to do the same.
The Joy Of Being A Nobody
1) You focus on what truly matters. Whenever you create something you’re proud of, there’s a natural tendency to want to tell everybody about your success. Look at me. I am so great! The more you share, the more addicted you become to the attention and the less you focus on the work that made you proud in the first place.
There are people who are trapped in a cyclone of self-validation, e.g., constantly posting selfies of a new look on Twitter, showing off a new car on Facebook, or writing about yet another fabulous vacation on Instagram. Think about it. If your self-esteem is strong, why do you need to tell anybody about anything you do?
We all need some sort of attention or validation. I get it. But moderation is the word. Don’t let such need to be recognized get out of control.
Not being able to publicly disclose I ran Financial Samurai for eight years made me focus on the only thing that mattered to its growth: writing regular content. I couldn’t leverage my network of entrepreneurs and financially savvy folks. I couldn’t leverage my resume. I couldn’t leverage my Asian heritage. Nor could I leverage my fabulous good looks to get on TV (ok, not really).
The only way I could grow was to compete on quality of content. Could I tell an interesting enough story that kept people engaged? Could I write valuable enough content where people could learn and grow their wealth and happiness? Could I write a post so polarizing that it would turn off a bunch of readers, but attract a bunch more because they saw the reality in what I was saying?
These were the challenges that I focused on every single week for years. And due to the focus, this site grew.
2) You become impervious to insults. After you’ve been called a loser, an idiot, arrogant, out of touch, shameful, a d*ckhead, a ch*nk, and many other epithets, your mind turns bulletproof. After all, when you’re already a nobody, nothing can be any lower.
And because I’m a nobody, even the smallest words of kindness are meaningful. Today, I get more joy from a nice response to my private newsletter than I would if I was a public personality being lauded with praise all the time. I also developed the ability to ignore or instantly forget anybody who shows hate. It’s like having the super power of selective amnesia.
Developing a thick skin can really help the relationships that matter most to you. For example, let’s say your husband or wife comes home from work extremely grumpy one day. If you’ve been able to develop a thick skin, you’ll more easily brush off his or her boorishness as a temporary phase.
What’s also interesting is that while insults no longer hurt as much, they still very much act as motivators to keep on going. I often use negative feedback to create new posts, thereby buttressing the survival of Financial Samurai, which in turn allows my family to continue living free.
3) You can live your life in peace. Being famous is a curse. Yet, for some reason, kids seem to have an insatiable desire for worldwide attention. What the hell happened? Is it due to social media or bad parenting or both?
When you’re famous, many people want something from you, mostly your time. And given time is more valuable than money, being known robs you of your most precious asset. Thank goodness I’m not famous. However, FS has grown large enough to where I get emails every single day asking for help without the person ever attempting to build a relationship first. If this scale of inquiry frequency were to transfer into the real world, I probably wouldn’t enjoy leaving the house.
For example, one day my friend blew me up while we were soaking in a hot tub after tennis at a club. He asked me, “How is Financial Samurai doing?” in front of five other fellow soakers, and one of them perked up and began asking me at least 10 questions ranging from whether she should buy property to whether she should go back to grad school. She had been a reader of Financial Samurai for three years.
Of course I had to be nice and answer her questions. I’m always honored to meet a long-time reader. But after 2+ hours of exercise, all I wanted to do was soak in the hot tub, drink a beer, and relax.
Now imagine if you were actually famous, and didn’t just have some small-time website. You would never be able to do anything in public in peace. Every single move you make would be questioned. Your words will be twisted to fit an agenda. You’d never be able to be yourself.
4) There are no expectations of you. When you’re a nobody, nobody expects you to do anything or do anything special. Therefore, you can regularly surpass expectations.
As a 5.0 rated tennis player, I’m supposed to readily beat 4.5 rated tennis players. If I do, nobody cares. But if I lose, as I’ve done before, it’s a disaster. I’d much rather be a 4.0 tennis player and beat up on 4.5s and 5.0s instead. This is why there are so many sandbaggers in any competitive activity.
Think about all the celebrities out there who are expected to always look good in public. What a drag! Most of the time, normal people just want to put on some comfortable clothes after washing their faces, and go for a leisurely walk without anybody taking their picture.
What about if you are a Harvard alumni? You are expected to do great things because you were so great in high school. But the sad reality is, a significant majority of Harvard alumni end up doing the same thing everybody else does in society. What a let down.
It’s no fun having the weight of the world on your shoulders. Life is so much better when you can surprise on the upside and be judged based only on what you do.
5) You allow your children to be their own people. I feel sorry for the children of celebrities who find themselves in the limelight because of parental transgressions. Children shouldn’t have to suffer due to the sins of their parents. Nor should children be forced to feel the pressure of matching their parent’s success. Inspired, yes.
If you’re always posting pictures of your kids who aren’t old enough to consent to public exposure, consider slowing down. You’re exposing them to public scrutiny which they haven’t asked for. Please don’t exploit your children to further your ego or business interests.
Protect them until they are old enough to make rational decisions for themselves. Let them tell their own story.
Be Rich, Not Famous
All this desire for fame and prestige is truly a waste of time. Get your 15 minutes of fame to satisfy your curiosity. Maybe get 30 minutes just to be sure. Soak up the thrill. Then let it go.
Unless you’re a completely insecure person, you’ll realize the attention you seek is really just a band-aid for some deeper problem that needs fixing.
Work on accumulating enough passive income so you never have to listen to anybody again. Accumulate at least 20X your annual expenses in liquid net worth so you can start feeling the joy of financial freedom.
The only things that matter are your friends, your family, and your freedom.
Various Scenarios For Fame Management
If you are already famous. The great thing about society is that it has a short memory. Your fame will naturally fade away if you take steps not to put yourself in the spotlight. Reduce your social media production. Don’t get in trouble with the law. Help others without calling the media to send a cameraman to record how magnanimous you are. You will regain your freedom sooner than you expect.
If you want to build a consulting business. Building a brand is crucial to having a thriving consulting practice. I highly encourage everyone to establish a web presence with their own site. In the beginning, putting yourself out there is a must if you are to sell successfully your skills and services. Nobody will hire you if they don’t know a little about your background. But once you start gaining traction, consider building a brand around something bigger, not just yourself. If you do, not only will you win back your privacy, it will be easier to also scale your business.
If you want to build a blog. Like building a business around your skills and services, blog readers want to know something about you before they subscribe. Think about why you read a bestselling book. Is it because of how the author looks or how the writing makes you think and feel? At the end of the day, it’s the quality of your content that matters. Search engines like Google don’t have a variable in their algorithms that rank articles written by handsome Asian males of Hawaiian and Taiwanese ancestry living in SF. Search engines are people blind. They focus on how helpful and useful your content is, and so will everybody else. Blogging truly is the best business in the world.
If you want to help as many people as possible. Being famous can positively affect people’s lives if you choose to use your fame to help other people. You can influence others to spread awareness and take up the cause. In such a scenario, your goal is to become as famous as possible and accept all the downside of fame for the greater good.
Readers, why do you think people seek so much attention nowadays? Why do people pick fights with others and say stupid things over social media if they still depend on a job to survive? If you want to be famous beyond your circle of people that matter, please explain why. What are some of the positives of being famous over being a nobody?