post written by: Marc Chernoff

An Idle Truth About Our Idols


The Idle Truth About Our Idols

I met a self-made, multi-millionaire for drinks and dinner last night.  Chris is the owner, CEO and principal engineer for a private software company that nets 20 million dollars a year in profit.  He’s an elite businessman with a big heart.  The compassion and chivalry he shows his employees and clients is unmistakable.  He has been an idol of mine for many years.  And as we sipped wine and chatted, he carried himself with the refined composure and confidence you’d expect from a man of his stature.

Then his wife joined us.

This was the first time I met Victoria, and she was a bit different than I had envisioned.  She was beautiful, yes, but she complained about everything.  According to her, the waitress was too slow, the centerpiece on the table was ugly, and her brand new Lexus doesn’t drive as smooth as her girlfriends’ Mercedes.

Chris grew increasingly irritated with each negative comment that rolled off Victoria’s tongue.  His expression turned sour, his posture deteriorated and his cheeks blushed with frustration.  After just fifteen minutes at the dinner table with her, Chris, the man of power and prestige whom I idolize, had completely lost his poise.   

“Where’s the waitress?  This bread is stale.” Victoria huffed under her breath.

“The only stale thing I perceive is your incessant bitching!” Chris yelped.  “Will you please stop whining and just allow us to enjoy a pleasant evening for once?  For heaven’s sake!”

She gave me a wide-eyed glance, as if to say, “Do you see the crap I have to put up with?”  He gave me a similar look a moment later.  The tension between them stirred my nerves.  I wanted to excuse myself, but I didn’t want to be rude.  Needless to say, the remainder of the evening was rather uncomfortable.

My Brain Malfunctions

Chris called me this morning and gave me some ingenious advice on how to solve a contractual business dilemma I told him about last night.  He then proceeded to apologize for his behavior at the dinner table.

“The work involved in running my business comes naturally to me.  I love what I do.  I’m successful because I understand all the inputs and outputs, and I can precisely tune the production gears to acquire a set of desired results,” Chris said.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you in action,” I agreed.

He continued: “But when it comes to long-term, intimate relationships, my brain malfunctions… and I inevitably fail.”

Multidimensional Human Beings

All people, even our idols, are multidimensional human beings.  Powerful business men, polished musicians, bestselling authors, and even our own parents all have dimensions of success and dimensions of failure present in their lives.

Our successful dimensions usually encompass the things we love most.  We are successful in these dimensions because of our love, because we naturally spend the most time perfecting and nurturing what we love.

And this is the part of our lives we want others to see, the successful part that holds our life’s passion.  It’s the notion of putting our best foot forward.  It’s the public persona we envision as our personal legacy:  “The Successful ABC” or “The Award Winning XYZ.”

But behind whichever polished storyline we publically promote, there lies a multidimensional human being with a long list of unprofessed failures.  Sometimes this person is a bad husband, or fails to choose a suitable wife.  Sometimes this person laughs at the expense of others.  And sometimes this person takes their eyes off the road and rear-ends the car in front of them.

So Do We

The incident at dinner last night reminded me of this idle truth.

Our biggest idols and childhood heroes are just human… with all the flawed dimensions humans have.  And we shouldn’t feel let down when we are faced with the reality of these flaws, because they have always been there.  It’s just part of being human.

Sometimes our idols act like obnoxious, emotional, fools.

But sometimes so do we.

And sometimes they argue, cry, and fall flat on their faces.

But sometimes so do we.

Photo by: Mike Baird

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17 Comments

  • Marc, this was a great post. It’s true that sometimes we expect people we admire to be bigger than life, and feel disappointed when we discover their flaws. Once we accept this though, it gives hope that flawed as we are, we too are worthy of admiration and can offer much to the world.

    Thanks for sharing the story and the lesson!

  • And sometimes nice guys marry not so nice women (or vice versa), who, instead of supporting the work her husband does - that allows her lifestyle - insists on complaining instead of enjoying her life.

  • That was a great article. Seriously well written with nuance. Far from all the gimmicky self improvement posts out there. 87 ways to… Stumbled it.

  • So is he still your idol, and is the success Chris has the kind you want for you and your wife?

    What is the lesson here, that Failure is acceptable in all other aspects of your life as long as you are a successful multi-millionaire?

    The truth is that for all of Chris success he can’t even eat in peace, for once.

  • @Daphne and Kit: Thanks for the kind words.

    @ Luis: The lesson here is simple: People are multidimensional. Just because someone is successful in one dimension of their life, doesn’t mean they are a universal success. The qualities we admire in our idols make up only a fraction of all the qualities they possess. After all, our idols are just people, and people make mistakes all the time… especially in the dimensions they pay less attention to.

    Maintaining a steady relationship with my wife is important to me. But it may not be all that important to Chris (some people never get married). It doesn’t mean Chris is a bad person; it just means his value system as a whole doesn’t align with mine. But I still admire many other qualities about him.

  • Great post and so true. No one is perfect.

  • Marc, my question is similar to Luis. I know for myself to have someone I look up to, I would be a lot more careful to find out more about the person as a whole as I’ve found a couple people I once admire to hugely disappoint me in other areas of their life.

    I certainly don’t look up to people with obvious money, actually, it’s starting to be quite the opposite of that.

    I think it’s important that people be careful with that they value themselves before putting something else in front of that, which is what your story reminds me of. Anyway, its a great lesson and one I hope make a few people think about those they look up to as well. Sure they are human with flaws to be forgiven, but are they really the type of person you want to look up to?

  • True… Winners fart too!

  • We all have our flaws. Excellent article!

  • @Mike King: Yeah, I completely agree with you. Sometimes you have to separate the qualities you idolize from the man or woman that holds these qualities. You can then focus on replicating these standalone qualities in your own life, without changing who you are in the process.

  • I agree. We are all human, from the presidents and superstars of the world to the homeless and drunk begging on the street. Each of us is capable of great things and equally capable of messing things up, big time. No one excels in all areas of their life - equally, no one messes up in all areas of their life. I believe it’s so important to see the human being in everyone - idols and beggars alike.

  • Marc, couldn’t agree more, we are a multidimensional, and we are not perfect. In blogging I also share 4 dimensions of my life, engineer , blogger, leader, and human, but I guess I can’t focus on everyone of them. For a season I have to focus on one, and seemingly let go of the others.

    Robert

  • Everyone should know this, but somehow we tend to be frustrated when our idol fails us. It’s like when you just notice one bad habit of your spouse, and all of a sudden, you have forgotten all the 1000 things you adore about her

    Nicely done Marc

  • Great post. Stumbled with review!
    Kinda reminded me of a dinner I had with a very successful store manager of
    mine and HIS wife. Let’s just say she had a little too much wine with
    dinner…

  • Not long ago I read something that came to mind while reading this post… it said something to the effect that “when you can look beneath their behavior and you can see the frightened child - it becomes nearly impossible to remain angry” — I think that also speaks to the multidimensional aspect we all carry within, and especially the “humanness” of our “fallen” idols.

    Great article :-)

  • This happened to me a few times. The first time I was a little disappointed, but it later helped me realize that we are all human. Your idols will never be perfect, but you can learn certain traits from everyone.

  • This actually reminds me of all the hoopla around Steve Jobs - “He was a visionary!” “No, he was an jerk!” “He was a genius innovator!” “No, he was just a great marketer of other people’s innovations” etc.

    For every person who idolizes, rightly or wrongly, there is another person who wants to belittle the achievements of that idol for falling short of perfection in every facet of their life.

    NOBODY is perfect. EVERYONE who has achieved great things has also had flaws. When we get rid of this unrealistic expectation of total perfection from the people we do look up to, when we can respect them for their achievements while having compassion for their mistakes, then we will be able to view our own mistakes and flaws with compassion as well.

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