Winning Beats Fame

Grandma at Shula's

In an era where people chase fame like dogs running down a hare in a field, there’s little discussion about winning. That’s too bad, because winning beats fame every time. It’s imminently more satisfying, yields more benefits, and is much more memorable.

Why do we focus on fame instead of winning? Just look at the obvious. Consider the media attention bestowed on famous people, and the idealism of thought leadership bestowed upon those who achieve notoriety in smaller online communities. Fame seems attractive, like it’s attainable and rewarding. But as time has shown, the emperor often doesn’t have clothes.

Many Internet famous people have had to get real jobs, their dreams of being recognized for their 10,000 Twitter followers have been unmet. But the best can always get a free plane ticket and hotel to speak at a gig. Such are the spoils of nanofame.

Winning Requires Work

Winning – achieving a worthy goal in the face of competition and/or circumstance – is not easy. It’s deeply personal. It could be making a choice to spend more time at home to raise a child who is well-rounded, educated, and loved as opposed to hitting networking events every night. For some winning means building a product or a company and selling it (or not), or achieving social change over a period of years in the face of staunch opposition.

Such hard work is rarely noticed. Being a great parent won’t necessarily win you thousands of fans on Twitter. It often takes years of dedicated committed focus, day in day out, surpassing struggles small and large, always, always with the end result in mind. It requires personal sacrifice as opposed to self glorification.

Winning often means struggling, failing, and learning to become better at whatever the end goal may require. It takes perseverance, guts, and a certain kind of faith that carries one through the difficult days. And there are hard, rough days that force people to really consider whether they have the stuff to survive the journey.

Aaron Strout, CEO of Powered, now bought by Dachis, is achieving some of this kind of success now. Aaron may never be noted as the most popular marketing voice on the interwebs, but he’s certainly one of the most successful ones.

Compared side by side, Internet fame sure seems a lot easier. Heck, you’ll have lots of friends, too. That in its own right may be enough for some, a win.

Yet, fame and the pleasure of its vain fan-based love doesn’t fulfill in the same way as achieving something. Whether it’s love and joy with the kid and their achievements, the rewards of successfully waging a business, the civic pride in having made society better, these things cannot ever be taken away. They are worthwhile successes.

Sometimes fame is bestowed upon someone for their winning ways. The limelight captures them in the moment of their success, a by product of all those hard years of work. Then the pleasure of fame becomes a laurel wreath, temporary and beautiful, capturing a moment in time.

Most winners don’t get caught up in it, though. There’s no proverbial “kool-aid” moment. They are off to the next thing, starting the next company, maybe running a marathon, teaching children, or planting a bounteous garden. It’s what makes them feel happy. It’s something you never want to stop doing.

Do you prefer winning or fame?


  • When I think of empty fame, I think of “Jersey Shore”. Sure those people are famous, but how satisfying is it? (For the record I have never watched it!). When I think of winning, I think of leaders in the world, those who sacrificed for years and years and never stopped learning. Passionate about what they do, and long term – happy.

    • Garry: You and I are on the same wavelength with this one. These leaders are famous, too, but for the right reasons.

  • I think everybody plays to win, it’s the definition of winning that varies. For some people a certain level of fame is their goal. If they reach that, they win (in their own minds). I think what you’re pointing out is that there are different kinds of goals, and making the judgment that certain kinds of goals are both more challenging and fulfilling to pursue. A judgment I agree with. Hope you’re doing great. We moved to Pittsburgh!

    • Pittsburgh is an awesome city, Jonny, congrats! Hope you are doing well.

      Yes, ultimately, winning gets back to the goal, and only the individual can make that out as to what’s right for them. I am arguing that fame in its own right though is not really a goal, but many people see it as such.

  • I am a huge fan of people like Aaron (I don’t think he founded Powered, but he COULD have :) who do what they do without expecting fanfare, and consistently deliver quality work and information with the right balance of confidence and humility. I’m honored to call him a friend.

    He certainly knows and runs in the same circles all the high-flyers — and is often just as high profile — but doesn’t grasp at the “being known” part of it — he’s happy to make his clients happy, to be a helpful, smart part of the community, and spend time with his fantastic wife and kids. That’s why you’ll never hear anyone damning Aaron with faint “guru” praise… he’s just the real deal.

    For me, life is about my family first, then my work — and as a writer who works on dozens of projects that will never have my name attached to them, I’ve had to find satisfaction in doing things well, and fulfilling the (appropriate) expectations of the folks I work for and with.

    • Good stuff, Meg. Your job is a hard one. Freelancing as a writer can be one of the most difficult tasks possible. It’s a hard living to earn, and you’re doing it. Congratulations!

      Aaron is a winner for sure. It was so easy to highlight them. I do think he is at least a co-founder, I do know he retweeted the article without correction, but heck, what do I know?

  • I disagree with this to some extent.

    In the case of art and artists, ‘winning’ – being true to yourself and avoiding the self-promotion that could lead to fame, might result in millions of people not being influenced or impacted by your work. To me, that’s a loss.

    For example, if you write a truly inspired novel you should be famous for it, so that more people can be affected or inspired by it. Same goes for a great sculptor or painter.

    In the same way, some people should be both winners and ‘Internet famous’. Good ideas shouldn’t be locked away because they might lead to fame.

    There will always be a percentage of people whose fame is undeserved and ersatz. So what? They are always weeded out, eventually. Besides, if they find fulfillment and pleasure in that vanity, if that’s their winning, who are you to judge?

    • Thanks for your comments. Being true to yourself and self promotion that could lead to fame… Internet fame is not a goal in your statement so I am not sure if the hairs split evenly on this.

      Promoting an initiative is smart, I promote blog posts, for example because I want ideas out there, to challenge the market, to encourage people to think. But I don’t do it to build fame for fame’s sake. That’s what this post is about. Let’s say your ideas are out there, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Are you just going to cultivate fame for fame’s sake? That to me is sad. I’d rather find something new to do.

      As to parenting, I completely disagree with you. As a new parent, I can tell you the most important time I spend is with my child. This matters more than anything. I know plenty of people who are famous, accomplished, who spend night after night networking, etc. Meanwhile their kids are in trouble, unhappy. I see nothing admirable in that.

  • This is about setting priorities as well as an evaluation of where a person’s values lie. It seems that many have fallen off the rails chasing after fleeting things, material positions and shiny objects. One of the core lessons I try to impart at my online forum is for the women in my target audience to place value in themselves and reaffirm that by only choosing the highest quality relationships.

    • This is all about setting priorities and understanding what will make you happy, and what makes a good role model. Thank you for your comment.

  • Geoff,
    I believe “fame” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Some may consider Chris Brogan to be “famous” while I consider him a person just trying to make a buck like the rest of us.

    “Winning”, on the other hand, can also have different meanings depending on who you ask. With that said, I’ll take issue with your statement: “Yet, fame and the pleasure of its vain fan-based love doesn’t fulfill in the same way as achieving something.” Achieving fame is quite an accomplishment. It doesn’t occur by accident. It’s usually attained by making great sacrifices. Just check the stories of Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, even Sylvester Stallone (there are many others). The fact that “vain fan-based love” accompanies the famous, shouldn’t diminish their accomplishment. That’s a “society” problem.

    Moreover, there are those that use their fame to affect positive change in the world and generate awareness for a variety of causes. From music artists & actors to sports stars. Lastly, many of these same famous people also share the same desire to achieve worthy goals like raising well-rounded kids, building a worthy product or even starting a business. They shouldn’t be excluded.

    I’m not talking “internet famous” as most of those folks probably earn less money than the people that worship them. I’m talking real fame. And you know what? If you’re famous, chances are you’ve probably earned it. And that, to me, is a winner.

    Let’s not hate the players, when its the game that’s fucked up. Yes?

    • Thanks, Dan for an intelligent well though out comment. I think my article is more of a point against what people are trying to achieve, what are their motives, what is noteworthy, and what makes you happy. In many ways it’s the old pursuit of vicarious pleasure versus the hard work of happiness and satisfaction.

      As mentioned in the article, fame is often a result of actually doing things as you would say, they earned it. So why don’t we celebrate doing things instead of making fame? It’s a not so easy is tossing a bone at players. Best wishes.

  • Geoff – funny story… I try and make it a habit of NEVER retweeting something without reading it first. Like many, I’ve been burned in the past by thinking a topic looked good only to find out that the underlying content wasn’t. However, there are a few people (and you are one of those few people) that I will retweet even if I haven’t seen the article because I trust you and your curation skills.

    I’m telling you this because when I retweeted you yesterday, I had no idea that you had mentioned me in your post. I do read your blog although I’ve been behind on all my blog reading recently. It wasn’t until a friendly little Google alert popped up later in the day that I realized that you had cited me as an example (thank you for that btw — humbled by your words).

    Just one point of clarification that I could have taken care of sooner if I had done my job properly. I am not actually a co-founder of Powered (it has been around since 1999). But, I do take responsibility for playing an instrumental role (along with my CEO) in transforming the company from a online community software play to a social media agency as a result of the acquisitions of crayon, StepChange and Drillteam.

    Back to the point of your post… I couldn’t agree more. Too many people spend time beating their own chests and not focusing on what’s important. All I can say is that it’s their loss.

    Either way, thank you for a great post and for including me in it as an example. I am truly humbled.

    p.s. Meg – thank you for your kind words. You know I think the same thing about you. Oh, and you rock!

    • Thanks, Aaron. I totally apologize, and have corrected the post to accurately depict your title. Keep rocking it!

      • Oh, it’s no problem at all. And if anything, I’d much rather have you mistake me for a co-founder vs. the janitor. ;)

  • I really love this post.

    Someone told me last week I was wasting my “social media cache” by effectively taking Big Love Little Hearts out of public view while we work on a very significant project. When I explained that we were going to quit fundraising I was asked “Why? You’re good at it – your campaigns make news!”

    If my goal was to make news I guess I could keep fundraising and spend my days thinking about spiffy new ways to use social media. But my goal isn’t to make news. My goal – my mission – is to make change in my cause community.

    I disappear from social media all the time for short periods of time. People wonder where I went and I inevitably get comments from friends who view themselves as my advisors on how being inconsistent in visibility hurts my “brand”. If I’m not on social media it’s because I’m working. Or because I’m being mom to an amazing little boy. I’m not talking about how fabulous I am because I’m going to do xyz….I’m just doing xyz.

    People who want to achieve something focus on winning. People who want to be something focus on fame. People who win sometimes achieve fame as a by-product, but the mind-set is an entirely different one.

    This is a good adjunct (and broader perspective) to the question we both answered on Quora: How is the psychology of wanting to ‘leave a legacy’ different from wanting to ‘change the world’?

    Thanks for a great post, Geoff!

    • And yes, I’m waaaaaay behind on reading blogs. Nothing like adding my two cents a week after the fact! ;)

    • It’s funny because this was by far my least popular post in the past few weeks, but most definitely one of the truest ones. We as a society don’t value achievements as much as we used to… Fame has become more important.

      Ironically, I think Fitzgerald dealt with this topic very aptly in the Great Gatsby. Nearly, 85 years later we are surrounded by Great Gatsbys. And yet, our current media environment completely revolves around it. Legacies are not built on parties or fame, though, at least not to me. Legends are built on actions. But we seem to have lost that concept.

      • Great Gatsby is a great parallel (no pun intended)!

        And agreed, action seems to be a lost concept. Although I’m loathe to ever pinpoint anything or anyone as ground zero, I feel like reality tv birthed this latest bout of fame-chasing and social media has created a way to amplify it. Fame seekers have been around as long as there have been men (or women) to seek it, but it used to be looked upon more negatively than it is now. The sheer amount of people whose end goal in life right now is to “be famous” is frightening, especially because most of them want to be famous for being famous, instead of famous for actual accomplishments.

        Not surprised this was your least popular post – it forces people to examine their motivations honestly. You blog in a space where most people believe garnering fame is how they can achieve something instead of viewing fame as a (possible) by-product of achievement.

        • I know. I hate my space (pun intended)! By favoring meaningful action and outcomes and not glory, I am the contrarian. How ironic. But I was always taught that a communicator’s job was to communicate on behalf of someone, not for them.

          Fame for fame’s sake seems to be the most vain of all. Sad. Really sad. This is a societal fiber issue that we will be unwriting for a long time. If at all.

          • You really hit the nail right on the head there. That’s really the problem with this: we’re creating a generation of people who want fame for fame’s sake. The effect that’s going to have (and already is having) on society at large is significant. That these people will be spending their time trying to become famous instead of producing something – creating something – inventing something – achieving something – DOING something will have ripple effects that very few people seem to be noticing or care about.

            I remember an American Idol episode from a few years ago where a 16 year old boy burst into tears. Not because he wasn’t given a shot at going to Hollywood and possibly realize the dream of following his passion, but because he wasn’t going to be famous. Not just tears in his eyes – a full blown out tantrum similar to the ones my son used to have when he was 2 years old.

            Yes…I just admitted I watch American Idol. I’m going to be totally honest and say that as a singer, this show indulges the horribly immature and catty side of me. ;)

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