Our Heroes Have Failed Us

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade were ripped from our lives in the past week in what early reports suggests are suicides. Robin Williams is another star extinguished before his time.

Kevin Spacey betrayed our trust along with a litany of actors and producers and comedians. It seems like an endless parade of successful men ran to the cliff like lemmings bent on self destruction.

Liz Taylor entertained us for decades. As a role model she left us with issues. Marriages came and went until she reached eight husbands over her lifetime. We see the same behavior today without the distraction of marriage in our modern starlets. Adored musicians race from one bed to the next until the world crashes in.

Closer to home we see bloggers and podcasters who failed us. Some crack under pressure while others lose themselves in drugs and cheap whisky. We idolize these people and want to be like them. Then, when we get a closer look, they have warts like the rest of us.

Friends and even parents can let us down. The perfect marriage collapses and nobody can figure out why. We watch as people we admire undertake destructive behavior. At some level it is entertaining. Deep down we know it ends badly.

We want our heroes to live forever. We want their example to help us live a better life. We want them to entertain us the way we remembered them at the height of their career.

Then something horrible goes wrong as we discover the emperor has no clothes.




Out of Left Field

Professionals who work with a lot of people for long periods of time start noticing patterns. In all the years I’ve been in practice only two clients ever surprised me with their divorce. In both cases I liked my client too much to see the forest from the trees. All the telltale signs were there to see if only I opened my eyes. A third case is impending. I didn’t see it coming, but it isn’t good.

My track record is pretty good. I can tell you within a few minutes of seeing a new client if their marriage or business will last and about how long it’ll last or how much wealth they’ll amass. Then I swing and catch air once every decade or so.

I’m not alone in this unique talent. Clients who are therapists tell me they tell the same thing, which begs the question: If I can see so clearly who will and will not succeed, why don’t I tell them so they can avoid the pain?

If only it were so easy! When it comes to financial matters I do speak up. I am brutally honest with clients contemplating an investment or planning a business venture. It’s rare, but I’ve helped clients I noticed were teetering on the emotional edge by recommending appropriate help. That is easy compared to telling a client their marriage doesn’t stand a chance in hell.

Two divorces surprised me. Not every client I had concerns over actually divorced (yet)! Investments are easy to advise on compared to interpersonal relationships. It’s not my place to warn clients they might not have a strong relationship.




Never Ending Failures

How can super successful people like Anthony Bourdain feel so low they feel the need to end their life? How can a loved rock star sink into drugs and other illicit behavior sure to destroy their career and health?

We can explain away the tragedy by blaming depression or other mental illness.  While I give credence to the explanation, I think a lot more is going on under the hood. Mental illness isn’t a good explanation for why a football mega star is caught beating his girlfriend in a public elevator. Mental illness doesn’t explain why seemingly good people turn dark when they become celebrities.

There s another explanation I want to explore.

Why Good People Do Bad Things

I notice something many people fail to realize: our heroes are normal people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The international rock star, sports phenom, bestselling author, Hollywood celebrities and even bloggers are real people who were once something else.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t always there helping us connect with food. Before he became a household name he was something else. Before fame he was a student and before that a child and before that an infant curious about the world around him. Something happened between then and here to cause him to take his own life. What could possibly have gone wrong?

First, it is unlikely a single defining moment which turns people down the wrong path. It can be a single event (divorce, illness, death of a loved one), but usually it is an accumulation of events that leads to their demise. It happens slowly so people adjust and accept the new behavior. Only after the defining moment is it clear—as hindsight so often is—do we recognize the problem.

But the real problem is that these are normal people! The demands on them once they gain fame must be crushing. Hell, your favorite accountant bends under pressure that wouldn’t even register on the scale real celebrities use just running a small business.

Another thing I’ve noticed is how small these people are in real life. Have you ever discovered an author, actor, musician or blogger you really connect with? Of course! Everyone has. We build up an impression of who and what these people are. Then we meet them in real life and they seem so small, so . . .  like everyone else, sans the press of people wanting their attention. Our heroes are frequently underwhelming when seen in real life. They are the furthest thing from a superhero. They just belt out blog posts or books, or act in movies or sing really good. Otherwise they are just like you and me.




Can We Help the People We Admire Survive?

Perception is what drives people to act the way they do. After the Plutus Award ceremony last year where this blog won the Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year a few of us talked before heading to the party. Congratulations went around as we drank in the moment.

As we prepared to attend the after ceremony party a few in our group felt good about so many people seeing our work. I plagiarized an author I met in Albany two decades ago at a sci-fi convention when I said, “If you walk outside this hotel and ask random people if they know what a Plutus Award is nobody will know what you are talking about.”

That’s the truth of the matter. People inside the demographic might know what a Plutus Award is, but virtually nobody outside the demographic will have a clue. It brings it all back into perspective.

Later this week there is a ChooseFI meetup in Appleton. I was invited to attend. (I’ll be there.) The host mentioned they needed a celebrity to draw more people. I asked who the celebrity they were thinking of inviting. Then it hit me. They meant me! I was flattered as all get-out. But I don’t feel like a celebrity. And in the real world I’m not. But if you love my work and read it regularly you might have a perception I’m some bigger than life individual. I’m not.

Real celebrities are constantly on the go. Travel is hell even when you are on vacation. To be on the road the way Bourdain was had to have been painful (and lonely).

The worst part of popularity is the demands on time. People think they know you because they see your work. No harm is meant when they seek interaction. When the flow is manageable I love the recognition. When the water runs too fast I start drowning.

I never met an author who didn’t enjoy shaking hands and autographing her books. I never met a blogger who didn’t love talking shop and sharing ideas. Really, really famous people are different. Twenty people at a meetup or conference is a manageable group to communicate with. The press of thousands is destabilizing.

We can help our heroes. They are normal people who happened to strike a chord with a vast audience. They went viral so to speak. Books, songs, movies and blog posts all enjoy going viral. The more the better. But time is limited so a viral song or movie can push us to the extreme when it happens.

There are no excuses for what Kevin Spacey did. We can’t condone violence from our heroes. But we have to ask ourselves why so many of our heroes, people who have it all, fail so often. Personally, I think they crack under pressure. I for one would never withstand such an assault! In varying degrees none of our heroes do either. Fame always extracts a cost.

There is nothing wrong with admiring our heroes and role models. We must always be respectful of their time and wishes as it relates to their personal time. We can’t fix our heroes; they have to do that on their own. Support is always welcome, however, when it is unattached to a time demand.

Fame isn’t glorious. Even on a micro scale—the way a local businessperson sees the world—it is demanding. A modestly successful blogger gets several requests per day. People want a piece of you long before you do anything really big.

Many goals require acknowledgement to succeed. As a blogger I want traffic to justify my writing efforts. Traffic means more people will be interested in who this character is writing the blog. It’s natural to want to meet people who have shaped our lives.

Our heroes are normal people known by many. When you see a master at work it is clear they have given their life for their craft. Anthony Bourdain literally did.

Mrs. Accountant and my girls are sacred. I would give a lot for success in my business and this blog. If the price includes any harm to my girls I’d walk in a heartbeat.

But it happens so slowly, building over time, you probably never see it coming. Heroes need more than our admiration; they need our support. When we see one of our heroes, role models, begin to waver we need to take action. Most of us had no ability to help Bourdain. But there are people around you who may need your help: role models, heroes, parents, friends, our children. It is your responsibility to be the hero, the role model, when they do.



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Keith Taxguy

13 Comments

  1. Matt on June 11, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Great post Keith.

    I just finished reading Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, his lesser known work compared to Wealth of Nations.

    Even though he wrote it over 250 years ago, his quote below to still remains true.

    “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”

    In this age of social media, it’s even more true considering how quickly people can be turned into celebrities or pumpkins overnight.

    • Keith Taxguy on June 11, 2018 at 4:42 pm

      I putting the book on my reading list. Don’t know how I missed it. Great quote.

  2. Sherry on June 11, 2018 at 8:43 am

    I loved reading this post! Really breaks it down, and I especially loved the closing line! This is a post I will truly thank about for the rest of the week. What a wonderful way to begin a Monday!

    • Keith Taxguy on June 11, 2018 at 4:43 pm

      The closing line was my call to action. We are all heroes in time.

  3. Steveark on June 11, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Your degree of discernment reminds me of my wife’s. She could accurately predict which of the young couples we socialized with in our early married days would make it and which would get divorced. She could also sniff out dishonest people like a bloodhound. I was never very good at it, I tended to believe everyone was honest and assumed what they said was true. Fortunately she’s hung in there with me for decades so I guess I’m passing the sniff test. We lost a pastor to suicide years ago. He was a friend and I never had a clue and I have wondered if that was me being self absorbed or him being deft at hiding his issues? I think this is a good reminder that we should be aware of all the people we come in contact with, celebrities or regular folks. Great post as always.

    • Keith Taxguy on June 11, 2018 at 4:45 pm

      Steveark, suicide is such a sad affair. So many have lost their battle with depression. I also know ministers who took their own life. My hope is I helped a few recognize the situation and they take my call to action.

  4. Marc Stump on June 11, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for today’s blog post, Keith. (I wish I were a wordsmith, it would make writing these comments so much easier). You managed to bring our heroes down to earth and helped me realize that they’re just like you and me, subject to ups and downs. But the possibility that they might need our help, or that we can help, never crossed my mind till now.

  5. TPL on June 12, 2018 at 2:56 am

    Great Post Keith. I’m turning 40 this year and most of my heroes (except for my dad who passed away when I was 13 due to a heart attack) growing up turned out to have more weaknesses than I thought.

    It was difficult at first to realize that they too break down and lose their ways. I then learned to provide support when I can.

    Thank you for this timely post and have a great day.

  6. Brian McMan on June 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Just found your site and noticed it has 68 pages worth of posts.

    Which one magic post will give a minimum wage earner such as myself replace his job income with dividends?

    Thanks.

    • Keith Taxguy on June 12, 2018 at 12:53 pm

      The blog is dripping with the short answer: save half your income, invest the savings in index funds (or pay off debt first) and give it time to accumulate large enough so the dividends do their job. If you make minimum wage you should consider a side hustle. I give loads of ideas throughout the blog. Pick what works best for you. To find these posts either use the search bar in the blog or Google the request with”The Wealthy Accountant” and you will be given a list of the most relevant information you’re looking for.

      • Brian McMan on June 13, 2018 at 10:09 am

        Thank you very much.

        Finally found the search bar, you have to go into a post and then its hidden halfway down the page on the right side. Its like there’s free gold bars of knowledge on this site.

        Very excited to explore this “side hustle.”

        Best wishes to you.

  7. K on June 14, 2018 at 11:04 am

    I believe the “perfectionist” expectations of today’s society contribute as well. In part due to social media and the legal climate we live in today, people are rarely allowed to make genuine human mistakes. Judgement is swift and complete. There must also definitely be a guilty party if something goes wrong. This kind of environment stifles human and societal growth. Prudent, measured risks are forgone due to the possibility of being sued into bankruptcy or worse. Reputations built over a lifetime destroyed in an instant. The medical profession, among others, have practitioners having breakdowns because of the pressure to not make any “mistakes”. No credence is given to the idea that there is much in medicine and human biology (and life in general) that are not known. It leads to paralyzing self doubt and depression. One of the best things we can do to help each other is help people forgive themselves and others for genuine, non malevolent mistakes and accidents.

    • Katy on June 19, 2018 at 10:02 am

      I agree. The recent rash of scandals have made me reflect on just what kind of moral standard we can hold people to and what is the place of redemption and forgiveness.

      What level of transgression is grounds for shunning? It seems to change every decade. The behavior that was lauded or tolerated or just a part of the way things are one year is the trendy thing to lambast people for the next year. How did we as a society go from seeing the “casting couch” as a thing that was a household concept to being shocked and outraged that so many in Hollywood were engaging in that type of behavior? Similarly, how were people to know that all of a sudden instead of it being expected that they take a back stage groopie to their bed at the end of the night that it was despicably immoral? Sure it may seem obvious that those things are wrong, and they are. It just seems like we are punishing people who were playing by the rules of the past in the past for not playing by the rules of today. It seems like two wrongs trying to make a right.

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