Most people seek success and share the view that one of the things that makes you successful is when you are popular.
In an endeavor to be popular, they befriend popular people, want to date popular people, because this somehow will make them feel either popular by association or successful by association.
I have learned that the vast majority of successful people who ever lived are people you have never heard of.
If we are to drill down further and consider happy successful people, it is almost certain that we have not heard of them.
Only a very small number of stories and identities make their way into the history books or into legend, and by definition, those that sought fame and fortune beyond what any human could possibly enjoy, are often over-represented among them.
Everywhere you look, people seek more followers, more influential people in their circles, some brag about being connected to so and so powerful/popular person.
We seek to read books of and by popular people, we attend events of popular people, we want to wear clothes designed by popular people, we want to be in the same vicinity with popular people.
So why are some of the most successful people not popular, for two reasons:
Survivorship bias or survival bias
This is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. It is a form of selection bias.
The media and society has a selection bias towards certain people, either because they look a certain ideal way, they talk a certain ideal way, they hang in with other popular people.
Once the media likes you, they will make you famous.
This is where you find people who are popular for being popular. They are not known for certain specific things, they are just socialites.
Keeping a low-key life
Second reason is that the unknown/anonymous successful people consciously choose to be unknown/anonymous.
Those who don’t make the media/society cut, even though they are successful, remain unknown and anonymous.
They deliberately choose to shun the spotlight, to keep a low-key life.
They believe that a private life is a happy life.
What does this have to do with you?
Isn’t there someone whose status and success you envy? Someone who has gotten more recognition, who has sold more books or albums or stuff, who has won more awards or set more records?
And when we think of these people, we think, “Oh, they are the lucky ones. They got what I should have gotten.”
But is that really true?
Most people with a public persona tell you that the downsides outweigh the upsides.
When the Minister of Finance in South Africa, Minister Tito Mboweni was recently appointed, he jokingly said in an impromptu interview, that he will have to leave his private life at home from now on.
Off-course, it’s not all bad of course, but there are real problems that go along with fame and fortune. Less of private life, you become a target for those who don’t like you, you are constantly under surveillance, you can’t have a bad day, people want to befriend you for your position, not for who you really are, the pressure to keep up is high and this results in stress.
Maybe the lucky ones are the hidden figures.
When you find yourself pining for fame and recognition, stop and consider what it might actually feel like when you get it, why you think you will be the exception to the rule.
The motto of the philosopher Epicurus, which was taken up by the great essayist Montaigne as well, was lathe biōsas:
Live in obscurity.
The French saying, Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés:
“In order to live happily, live hidden.”
My people, Mapedi say: Moja sa gagwe wa iphihla, loosely meaning:
“He who is doing very well, don’t show.“
You can be successful, you don’t need popularity to validate that.