That Moment When Your Idol Is Not Your Idol Anymore
The first thing that really drew me to Caitlin Moran’s book – apart from the obvious fact that I adore her personality and dare I say it her “personal brand” (pause for vom) – was the name of the book. It wasn’t just “How To Be A Girl” it was “How to Build A Girl”. A subtle but important difference. Not that we should be assembling ourselves physically like Barbie dolls of course, but that we take layers of pop culture, quotes, ideas, personalities, inspirations and build them all together to one day have a proper Self.
I had fixated on a few well-known writers from an early age. As a curious 16-year-old I’d do the classic thing of emailing a few of them cringe emails from my dial-up computer, explaining just how much I wanted to be them when I grew up. Thinking, oh-so-naively, that they would write back to me with an A-Z plan of “how to make it”. The Official Guide To Doing What They Did. A few secret meetings in which they would tell a podgy 16-year-old everything, for free, because of course they would have the time to do that. Amongst the thousands of other desperate emails. Later I learnt it’s rude to ask to pick someone’s brain for free even if you offer a free lunch, unless you are soul mates, or it’s mutually beneficial. Then, (and only then) will someone maybe do you a favour.
As I grew older I still followed them closely. I still watched them grow and develop and change their writing, their careers, their directions. I definitely related to Caitlin’s story in which she used to “pretend to be” a few of her heroes. She relayed recently a time in which she’d picked up the phone whilst interviewing Courtney Love and pretended to be her, in order to have any sort of confidence at all when ordering room service. It’s quite an easy task actually, pretending to be someone else in a moment of panic. Because if for some reason you did something bad or embarrassing you can secretly think to yourself: well, I was being someone else just then. And now I’m me again now. So it’s all OK.
The thing will asking people for advice is sadly, they will hardly ever give it to you. And to be honest, I totally see why. I get quite a few emails now asking me how to get into writing, how to work for a publication, how to start a blog, how to grow your social media, how to solve a rubix cube (not really, but some of the questions are at that level of difficulty). And to a certain extent I reply and help out. But, and there is a but: there is a line. A) Because it’s actually my paid job to consult and do all those things B) You genuinely do have to figure it out yourself and C) I’ll probably give you a wrong answer. Every path is different and some stranger won’t have the answers to your questions all neatly packaged up. It just doesn’t happen that like that. One of my favourite ever articles is called No You Can’t Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much. And what the writer says is true: it’s not OK to ask someone to spill all of their life lessons, for free, to you. To someone that probably hasn’t earned that relationship in the first place except for one measly email.
So recently, I’ve been looking at my heroes in a different way. I respect, admire and of course still look up to them. I still follow their work and religiously read everything they do. However, it is a different type of idolisation. I don’t want to be them and I certainly don’t want to replicate them, like I used to. They help me build myself and build my work, just by doing what they do. What’s changed is I don’t feel I need to pick their brains or ask for too much advice all the time. It’s cheesy, but it’s true that you have to be your own biggest fan, because otherwise, who else will? You have to realise that other people don’t have your answers all of the time and you might even surprise yourself on the day you come to disagree with them and feel yourself simply unable to just nod along. I definitely feel more distanced from my heroes now, but it’s made me feel a lot stronger with it.
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