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The Loneliness of Fame and Success

Why people like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain may have felt helpless

“When you stand out, it feels like you’re standing alone and separate.”

One of our greatest drives as social creatures is to belong; to feel we are part of a community or group and that somehow we fit in.

Alongside that deep drive, is another natural human desire. The drive for growth. This one happens almost automatically regardless of our desire for or against it.

The two of these don’t always play nice though. What happens when our natural progression of growth moves us to stand taller than the rest? 

Suddenly we stop fitting in because we’re standing out.

You might be the employee that gets a raise and suddenly becomes a manager. You might be the actor who gets a lead role and suddenly becomes a star. You might be the person whose actions help transform a community and suddenly become a leader. You might be the family member who decides to travel and becomes an inspiration.

And in that beautiful moment of growing into something greater than what you were, you also lose something. You lose the ability to relate in the same way to the community, group, or family you now stand out from.

We see people like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain, who reach amazing levels of success, standing out from the crowd, and at the same time, end up standing lonely on the mountaintop thinking there is nobody to turn to who can relate with them.

Rose McGowan said about Bourdain’s recent suicide, “There is no one to blame but the stigma of loneliness, the stigma of asking for help, the stigma of mental illness, the stigma of being famous and hurting.”

It must be a frightening realization to reach the top, fulfill one’s dreams, explore uncommon experiences only to find the celebration at the end is often alone in an empty room of trophies, awards, and souvenir memories.

Another, maybe more common example of this is when someone takes off to travel the world and returns to their homes and family many years later and finds it difficult to relate to the same beliefs, routines, or ideas they grew up in because they now have experiences their old friends and family cannot relate to.

And so, we end up stuck between what seems like a choice between belonging and succeeding.

I know, for myself as a Heart Coach and author on personal development, I am often faced with this challenge. It is a challenge to stand out and lead in the capacity that my experiences, study, and practice allow me, or to choose not to fully embrace that position for fear that it might mean I won’t belong as a participant or member anymore, but instead stand alone as a leader or authority.

It is almost as though, the achievement of our dreams, growth, and success disconnect us from the crowd we’ve stepped up to be a beacon or inspiration for. And in that disconnect comes a sense of lonely desperation because we are still human; we still seek to belong and be part of something. That belonging gives us safety, comfort, and support. We know we have people to turn to when life challenges us.

As a leader, a celebrity, an authority – who do you have to turn to for support, help, and comfort? Who can relate?

Maybe this is what leads to the depressions and despair we find so often in people who seem to have achieved it all. What cost do they pay for success?

Henna Inam, in an article for Forbes wrote, “I imagine both Bourdain and Spade experienced some sense of emptiness or despair. As we go about pursuing dreams important to us, what are the just-beneath-the-surface moments of emptiness we feel? What is the emptiness we avoid? What do we seek on the outside to fill that emptiness?”

Despair is defined as the complete loss or absence of hope. We try to rationalize that even those on the top, should know they can ask for help, but how do you do that, if you have lost the belief that anyone could relate or understand and thus find yourself hopeless for a solution to your suffering?

Hope rises when we allow the possibility of a solution beyond that which we can presently conceive. 

So, maybe the first step is redefining our resources. In this case, redefining where and from whom we seek support. We want to be heard by someone who can relate and whom we do not fear judgment…and that may mean changing our way of connecting.

In my own reflections and thoughts about this internal conflict between flourishing with success and fear of standing alone, I’ve come to realize that a very important step must be taken consciously as one grows or up-levels.

That is, as we step into bigger roles, more leadership, and positions of success, we must also move from that table we’ve been sitting at. Move from the kids table to the adults, move from the guests table to the hosts, move from the table where you are leading, to the table with other leaders.

You see, that helplessness, that desperate loneliness of success comes not because one is actually alone or not fitting in, but more so from not seeing that one’s community changes when you yourself change.

I’ve seen it in my own life and experience – that every time I grew to embrace life at a new level or perspective, while it was often at the expense of old friendships and connections, that space was always filled by new abundant connections of like-minded people.

If you go on a transformational retreat, or watch an inspirational movie, it stands to reason that the people you experience those things with will more easily relate and accept who you are because of it, as they also have felt the impact.

Yet, we try to take our growth or success and all the new conditions that come with it and expect the people who have known us from before to understand us in our new capicity, even though they have not been through the same experiences. 

And then we feel desperate because we feel alone in the world and misunderstood.

What if we are just trying to be understood by the wrong people?

You can be heard and listened to. You can be respected and celebrated. You can be praised or even judged. To be understood though, you need the audience of someone who can relate to your experiences.

And all too often, if you remain at the table where you first sat down; at a table where nobody else has tried the same dish as you, then it is inevitable that the people at that table will not understand your experience – regardless of how much they may want to or try to.

So, while you are standing out, stand up!

Get up, and notice that there are other tables. And at those other tables, there are other people standing, some of whom probably ate the same dish as you and understand your experience.

Can you find belonging now amongst them?

I believe balanced success comes from finding three tribes. The tribe you are serving, the tribe you are a part of, and the tribe you are growing toward.

I believe it is important, as we learn to lead, to stand out, and succeed, that we also know that we are not alone. It only seems that way because we might seek support and understanding from the tribe we are now serving.

The tribe you are part of is the group of people who can share in your experiences, success, choices, and challenges. They understand and can relate and can support you.

The tribe you are now growing toward are the people who have achieved or experience what you have not, but want to. They are your mentors, coaches, guides.

With every success we let go of somethings, and we also let in somethings.

I hope that as we each naturally grow to fulfill greater capacities of our unique expression, that we also allow ourselves to move and belong to communities that can relate and support us.

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