D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Ignite Your Life: Realization - Escape the Cult of Personality

Sunday, July 27, 2008 12:52 AM

This post is part of a series called Ignite Your Life. For background info on the series, please refer to previous posts on introducing the series and The 5 R's.

Heroes. Idols. Role Models. Many of us have people in our lives that we look up to, that we idolize, that we'd be considered a "fan" of. Think about it: get a piece of paper out, and write down the people that you look up to, the ones that you wish to become like, the ones that hold some level of authority over who you are or what you want to be.

Now some of these people might be celebrities out of your reach, but they may also be people in your organization, in your social circle, or simply visible members in your community. Why do they have a special place in your life? What is it about them that you hold to a different status from other people? Their intelligence? Their power? Their personality?


I had a friend that fell hard into the cult of personality. It was 2001 and .NET had just started to hit the streets out of beta. The Microsoft marketing machine was in full swing, and community tours featuring key figures were happening everywhere. It was at one of these events that my friend saw for the first time his "idol". He was in awe as the presenter showed off demos, cracked jokes, and pulled off what was the presentation of the day.

After that, my friend moved into fan mode, keeping tabs on the speaker's blog and his company. He eventually moved into a position on the local user group board where he was now working *with* his idol, and the contact-high he got was amazing. Here was this lowly developer who was friends with a key member of the local dev community! There's no doubt that my buddy reaped benefits during this time. And the biggest payoff was still to come.

He was finally offered a job to work for the guy he had idolized for so long. Finally, this was the culmination of all the hard work he'd put in to the community and to his development career! He had hit the jackpot and he would never, ever, have to look for another job again.

Less than two years later, my friend left. The relationship with the person he had viewed as a role model and mentor was seemingly damaged beyond repair, not for any one specific event but in realizations over time.


The deceptive nature of the Cult of Personality is that we tend to erect it ourselves instead of someone else actively looking for followers. We raise people up to expectations that may be unrealistic and that they never intended to meet in the first place. What we're doing is giving someone else, who never asked for it, power over us. Instead of looking to ourselves, we look to others to give us meaning, value, and self worth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "Nothing external to you has any power over you." Unless of course we grant it. If you give someone power over any part of your life, you're telling yourself that you can't succeed in that area apart from that person. Many of us go for the "contact highs": feeling powerful based on the people you associate with instead of wielding your own power and self confidence. We cheat ourselves of truly rocking our life because we just can't believe that we can do it on our own.

My friend in the story put too many expectations on his boss/mentor/idol. Do you know what an expectation is? It's allowing others to determine if you're happy or not. It's a means of shirking that responsibility and placing it squarely on someone else so that when we're eventually let down we don't have to blame ourselves.

The Cult of Personality is insidious in this, and its why we need to ensure we rip up our membership cards. It's one thing to admire someone for their skills or some other aspect of their being. But its entirely another to place your value and your happiness on their inability to meet your expectations.

So look at those people whose names you wrote down earlier. How much power do they really hold in your life? Are you trying to tailor yourself after them, using yourself as an alter to your idol, or do you have a healthy respect for what they do/say without it affecting your own personal worth and values?

Realize that you have power over your life. You don't need anyone else to give you power, and you certainly don't need power by association. Be the best you that you can be.

Now that we've ditched the cult of personality, we'll next move on to creating a new illusion for ourselves...because as Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one."



# re: Ignite Your Life: Realization - Escape the Cult of Personality

I give your friend credit for coming to the point of realization and escaping what he thought was a bad situation.
7/28/2008 7:33 AM | Shaneo

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