Because I follow a few people via Medium, I now get a daily email and digest of content published on the platform. Most of it’s crap, but a handful of stories stand out and I’ll read them. Like this one, about a musician, Mike Posner.
I’d never heard of Posner, actually—at least not until I read his post.
Like a lot of young performers that ascend fame’s ladder, the ride to the top changed who he was, or at least magnified things about him that he found he didn’t like. Of course, the ride back down celebrity’s hill can be equally as dramatic (as well as ego-deflating). To his credit, Posner possessed some measure of self-awareness and took time to reflect and reconsider. Not every young man facing the crash-and-burn of his career would have had his presence of mind, and taken steps to right himself.
After he had a worldwide hit in 2010, with a song called “Cooler Than Me,” he ended up being dropped by his label. Five years later, he had to redefine and yes, reinvent.
Instead of being defined by terms like “rich,” “young,” and “sort of famous” as he explained, he began to see that he could be something different—and subsequently set the parameters himself on his self-identity. He found meaning instead, in words like “artist,” “human,” “writer,” and maybe the most important, “learner.”
His series of questions were really good. They allow all of us to take a step back and reflect:
- What are the words that you use to define yourself?
- Where did they come from?
- Did you pick them for yourself, or did someone thrust them upon you?
- Do you want to change them?
- If so, to what?
Rather than wallow in self-pity, he figured out that he had room to grow and areas that needed improvement. Merely being famous, or “young,” or “rich,” and as he self-deprecatingly stated, “sort of famous” didn’t allow him the same space that being nobody again, offered up.
I wrote about David Bowie’s death in January. Last night, MTV Live (broadcast via Palladia) had a documentary on Bowie, Bowie: Five Years. Highlighted were five years of Bowie’s long and varied career, including “the Berlin years.”
Like Posner, Bowie “stepped away” from the spotlight—in his case, to escape Los Angeles and the drugs that he recognized were killing him. The three albums produced during that period, including “Low” (in collaboration with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp) were some of Bowie’s most adventurous music and an important and stabilizing transition for one of rock’s most iconic figures. What were the questions he posed to himself at the time?
Perhaps more important relative to today’s discussion: why were Posner and Bowie able to “step away” and come to terms with significant flaws in their self-identity? In Bowie’s case, he could have gone the way of many a rocker at the time, falling into a drug-fueled haze and worse, killed himself. He would have “flamed out,” and become another idolized star who died too soon. Instead, he gave the music world another 40 years of amazing material.
In a world fueled by techno-narcissism, with phones, selfies, and social media, these are two very human examples worth considering.