The Difference Between the Stars and the Rest of Us

This post is part of the Creative Rock Stars series.

Empty Pedestal

Contrary to appearances, stars are not superhuman.

Although we (and they) love the image of the star, in lots of ways they’re just like the rest of us.

I should know. I’ve had a few of them in my consulting room, as a coach and originally a psychotherapist. People you might have heard of. People who made me sit up a little straighter, with a slight shock at being that close to them. And they’ve told me what it’s really like to be a star.

And you know what? They’re just like you.

Just like you, they have their doubts and insecurities. They may show a confident face to the world, but deep inside they are as vulnerable as the rest of us. Criticism hurts. Praise is always welcome. There are times when they worry about failure. Sometimes they even feel a fraud, in danger of being found out.

So how come they are where they are, doing what they’re doing?

Obviously they are talented. But so are we all, to some degree. And talent is not a silver spoon, a birthright granting automatic fame and fortune. According to renowned creative director Dave Trott, it can even be a handicap:

What chance do those of us who aren’t talented stand against those who are?
Is it ever possible ordinary people to beat the gifted?
In my experience, yes.
Talented people tend to be complacent, and consequently lazy.
All you have to actually do is work harder.

Like many of us, the stars began with a dream. But dreams are cheap. Instead of sitting around daydreaming, they took action. Each of them did something very unusual. Something distinctive, outstanding, unique. They learned their craft. They worked hard. They took risks. They took their craft and transformed it into art. They took kicks in the teeth and learned from them. They got effective people on board. They got the word out. They promised and delivered, over and over again.

If you think you work hard, imagine being Jimi Hendrix. Yes he had a sublime gift, but he honed his talent with constant practice. Chas Chandler described Hendrix as never going anywhere without a guitar. At one stage, Chandler said it was impossible to get into the toilet because Jimi would take his guitar and sit there for hours because he liked the sound of the guitar bouncing off the tiles on the wall.

If you think you’re a perfectionist, imagine being Brian Wilson, who went through 17 recording sessions, 90 hours of tape and a reported $50,000 to record just one track. It’s not hard to imagine the complaints along the way, but no one complained about the result – ‘Good Vibrations’, a number one hit, acclaimed as one of the greatest tracks of all time.

If you find it daunting to present your work to a client, boss or potential funder, imagine being Pulp, backstage at Glastonbury in 1995. After 10 years in the indie wilderness, you’re only headlining tonight because Stone Roses guitarist John Squire broke his arm last week. You’re about to face tens of thousands of disappointed Stone Roses fans, knowing it will take something special to win them over. Your electrifying performance catapults you, at last, to national stardom. (I was in the crowd that night, definitely a show to remember.)

If you get discouraged by rejection, imagine being The Beatles in 1962, turned down by just about every record label in the land. You are losing patience with your manager Brian Epstein, as he trudges off to one more meeting, at Parlophone (a division of EMI, who have already rejected you once) …

These people didn’t stop at wishful thinking or working hard at a predictable career.

They didn’t just think different, they acted different. They took Lateral Action.

And they did it all with no guarantee of success. Because stardom is a risky business – as we’ll see in the next post…

Your Path to Stardom

What’s your biggest success so far?

When did you first dream of doing it?

What obstacles did you encounter?

How did you deal with fear?

What did success cost you?

What did you learn from that experience, that will contribute to your future success?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

Table of Contents for Creative Rock Stars

  1. Creative Entrepreneurs Are the Rock Stars of the 21st Century

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

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Responses to this Post


  1. I hear you on this one. You had me somewhere around the point where you mentioned that stars are regular people.

    I’ve experienced this on a smaller blogosphere-fame scale. I went from being just another guy to James Chartrand, that guy from Men with Pens.

    Suddenly there was the spotlight, shining on me. I could have frozen in place, I could have ran from the stage… hell no. I grabbed the mic and rocked it out for all I was worth.

    I goofed, I slipped, I forgot the words sometimes… I tripped on the cable that led to the speakers and nearly broke my nose… but I kept on rocking.

    Behind it all, much of the voice inside of me says (on a daily basis), “But you’re just a guy! Who the hell are you to be up here?! What are you doing? Don’t these people know that you’re just a guy?”

    Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. You know why? Because I’m going to end up playing on every stage in every city around the world. I’m going to learn, to grow, to challenge myself and to rock that spotlight moment for all it’s worth.

    Why? Because I have the chance – and I’m not going to pass it up.

  2. What’s your biggest success so far?
    Being able to create video tuts for and with well respected, big name Internet players like Brian Clark, Tony Clark and Chris Pearson.

    When did you first dream of doing it?
    Never really dreamed of screencasting, but was a teacher so video instruction was a natural progression I wanted to jump head first into. When I saw form I jumped on it

    What obstacles did you encounter?
    getting attention via comments alone. In this age you have to make an impact. I guess I did, cause I was welcomed in with no prior contact (Ain’t the Internet grand!). Talking into a mic was weird and challenging.

    How did you deal with fear?
    Live by the motto “Carpe Diem” (spelling) which means Sieze the day.

    What did success cost you?
    Couple hundred in software and books, but other than that, all upside.

    What did you learn from that experience, that will contribute to your future success?
    Screencasting is awesome, but tough to do well. The time it takes to create a 5 minute video could take up to 5 hours. Lesson: allow plenty of time for each project.

  3. Fear is a big one, fear of failure. I remember my first real chance to do some creative copywriting that my friend gave me to do for one of his clients. A Fortune 500 company.

    I was unproven. It was difficult to send anything in because I was always second guessing myself, doubting if my work had any value, and was afraid of screwing up etc. Luckily, the client loved my work and I continue to write for my friend’s clients.

    The other big issue for me is motivation. It’s hard to take action when you have no assurance of what the outcome is going to be. It’s easy to just do nothing at all when there is no guarantee that your hard work and effort will pay off. It’s such obvious advice, and yet so hard to pull off!

  4. You know, coming back to the question, “What did success cost you?”, I had another thought.

    When we found ourselves propulsed into a new level of success with our blog, we realized that isolation increases. People see the glory, the front, the spectacular side of success.

    They forget that behind the star is a real person with real feelings and real worries just like theirs. (Which is what your post says.)

    People stopped asking how we were just for the sake of making sure life was good on our end. They stopped asking if we had a good day or bad. We kind of fell into an odd sort of state of isolation because of that – hey, have to maintain the front that it’s always amazing, all the time, right? We couldn’t complain or say we had a shitty day. No one understood. We had everything they wanted – how could that be bad?

    Okay, I’m adding some drama here, but the point is there. Success gave me new understanding of just how difficult and stressful it can be to be successful.

    It’s worth saying.

  5. Thanks guys, great stories. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it a rollercoaster ride. 🙂

    Shane — great to see you here, I learned a lot from your modules at Teaching Sells.

    Brian — yes there’s a wall of fear you have to go through. Fear, failure and faith — the (un)holy trinity that accompany you on the road to success.

    James — good point about stress involved in success. Hugh MacLeod had a brilliant post recently on that theme, pointing out that success is a lot more complex and therefore difficult to deal with than failure.

  6. James – brilliant point about how difficult and stressful success can be.

    People tend to covet the success others have, be it at work or personal, but they never covet the hard work and sacrifice it took to get there. Not to mention the hard work and sacrifice it takes to stay there.

    Mark, thank you once again for another brilliant post.

  7. Good article. I really need to give myself a swift kick and I pretty much got one today. I guess I’m another victim of the economic crisis and lost my job today. I was comfortable but no work to do. I felt in a way that I let things just go one when I know I have to be determined to do my thing, my film. I made some great friends along the way, but I cannot consider myself so much a victim, I’m a survivor and yes I’m the kind of person that believes that things happen for a reason, so maybe there is something different out there for me. Things can only move up from here and I need to take action. Take action in working on my own endeavors and also finding a source of income that is consistent with my own goals and heart.

  8. Kathy — Exactly. Some people prefer to tell you how ‘lucky’ you are.

    Melissa — Ouch! sorry to hear that. But great to see you’re looking for the opportunity in the situation. When I was made redundant, a little over 10 years ago, it was pretty scary but pushed me in the direction of following my dream and going full-time as a therapist, which is one of the best things I ever did.

  9. Seeing as you asked 🙂

    My biggest success ever, career wise, was becoming the singer in the biggest rock band in my home city of 1 million people.

    It took two years of hard work and relentless focus to achieve and it was very, very easy to destroy – as I discovered the hard way.

    The lessons I learned from that are with me every day.

    1. Focus like a laser beam
    2. Be deaf to nonconstructive criticism
    3. Work like a slave
    4. Believe unwaveringly
    5. Never believe your own hype
    6. Never stop working unless you want out

  10. Seamus — great example, I’m intrigued how you managed to destroy it … but will spare your blushes if you’d rather not write about it. Great list — I’m sure Tyler Durden would approve!

  11. I guess rejection is just another challenge. And you can rise up, get a little better at what you’re doing, and try again. Thanks for the reminder. It’s too easy to stop when things are going bad. Case in point: I used to run a website that was getting great traffic and producing great revenue, until one day it fell from the serps and only does a fraction of the business it once did. I had to convince myself to start over with new ventures–and that was a tough conversation with myself.

    But I know that my next website–or whatever project I focus on–will be better. There were problems with my old site and I didn’t deal with them because it was doing well. I now feel free to move on to other things and it feels great. It has freed up my time which allows me to focus on finding clients interested in internet copywriting, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now, as well as pursue other things that will be more profitable in the long run.

    In sum, what I am learning is success really depends on how you respond to failure, or like you mentioned, rejection. And when you write that rockstars are just like us, normal people with fears and all the same things we worry about, it hammers the point home that it takes a constant effort to deal with failure, and of course, success.

    I mean, imagine if the Beatles had quit after being blown off by those major record companies. That’s just crazy.

  12. “success really depends on how you respond to failure, or like you mentioned, rejection” – Nail on head. There’s usually an opportunity in there somewhere, the trick is to see it at the time, when you’re in the middle of it. Good for you for approaching it that way.

  13. Thanks, you confirmed what I love to do: setting the trail for others who want more information on what I love: web programming, designing and technical services.

    This first one is highly appreciated!

  14. Since I am taking the course, I’m going to take Shane’s idea and actually answer the questions:

    What’s your biggest success so far? – 790 on Math SAT, Graduating college, Overcoming depression my own, My blog

    When did you first dream of doing it? Blog – about a year and 3 months ago.

    What obstacles did you encounter? Writing content, finding readers.

    How did you deal with fear? At times I persisted through it. Other times I got lazy and took breaks because I didn’t think it was worth it.

    What did success cost you? Lots of time…and some social interactions.

    What did you learn from that experience, that will contribute to your future success? How to stay on the path and how to balance social life with work life (which is actually very, very important for both in my case).

  15. Thanks Steven, great to see you making the most of the learning opportunity. And great lessons to take away at the end.

  16. I am just excited getting my creativity lessons from Mark McGuinness. I know that I am going to benefit tremendously and look forward yo lesson no 2. Lesson 1 was like he was talking about me. Thanks for sharing and my you be blessed.

  17. What’s your biggest success so far?
    -playing The Baked Potato blues club

    When did you first dream of doing it?

    What obstacles did you encounter?
    money, education, parents & well wishers, bandmembers, day jobs, time, location, equipment,

    How did you deal with fear?

    What did success cost you?
    money, education, parents & well wishers, bandmembers, day job, time, location, equipment,

    What did you learn from that experience, that will contribute to your future success?
    no one person or industry holds the key to having creative success. network network network.

  18. Mohamed Al Said says:

    This article ignite my energy