Addicted to Accolades

by Bill Brenner on April 30, 2014

Last year, David McCullough Jr. — longtime Wellesley High School English teacher and son of one of my favorite authors — gave a commencement speech in which he told graduates the hard truth: They’re not special.

Mood music:

You can see the whole speech here, but here’s a key passage for me:

In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another — which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.

I loved that speech, as did a lot of friends and colleagues. But an uncomfortable truth hit me: McCullough wasn’t just talking about the teenagers in caps and gowns. He was taking about us adults, too.

In this world of Twitter and Facebook, we’ve become addicted to accolades. Not every single one of us, but many of us, myself included.

I found myself thinking about it this week after watching some industry colleagues discuss the notion that our community has “too many rock stars and not enough session players,” in the words of Jack Daniel. In my opinion, Daniel is one of the biggest security rock stars out there.

There are a lot of rock stars in the security industry. Hell, every industry has ’em. I do not count myself among them. Not even close. People like Jack rose to that status by doing the hard work and having the balls to discuss difficult issues in front of crowds full of skeptics and cynics.

I know a lot of session players, too. They shun the limelight and prefer to tinker away in peace.

Though I don’t consider myself a star, I do love getting positive attention for work I’ve done. I’ll even admit I’m addicted to it.

Sure, I value negative feedback as a necessity for personal growth, but I also find it crushing sometimes. Not because it’s unfair, but because I have a big ego.

The bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

I love rock stars, in my industry and beyond. If I ever rate being one, I hope it’s because I did something important, not because I wanted such status. I trust y’all will help keep me honest.

The Book of Rock Stars book cover

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