So I made a conscious decision, to befriend the pretty, popular girl, and the very next day I put my plan into action. Approach. Smile. Be nice. And, poof, there I was, in what felt like an instant, in with the in crowd.
Which went great, until Leslie told me she didn't want to be friends anymore -- and neither did the rest of her posse. "We just feel like you only want to be friends with us to be popular," she said, a comment that cut all the more deeply because of how true it was. I was not a good friend. I was a selfish one. A good friend wonders what they can give the relationship. A bad friend wonders what they can get.
Friendship is earned, not taken. You can't just walk up to someone and be friends; you can only begin the process. True friendship is the result of years of investment in the relationship: years of showing up, again and again, of consistently depositing more into the emotional bank account than you withdraw, of supporting friends' successes and lamenting their hardships without coveting them or exploiting them. You must earn it.
Fame, at least any kind that has a hope of enduring, is also earned. This is true for the legends of stage and screen, who have to put years of work into sharpening their craft and delivering superlative performances, one after another; it's also true for people with a more niche kind of fame.
Consider the blogger Hugh MacLeod. Hugh is known as the guy who draws cartoons on the back of business cards; he's also an excellent writer and someone with tremendous insight into human nature. And all of those things should be enough to get people to pay attention to him. But the reason he is influential today is because he has been drawing cartoons on the back of business cards consistently, for years; he has been writing consistently, for years; he has been sharing his insight into human nature consistently, for years. Here is how he sees it:
"I get asked a lot, Your business card format is very simple. Aren't you worried about somebody ripping it off? Standard Answer: Only if they can draw more of them than me, better than me. What gives the work its edge is the simple fact that I've spent years drawing them. I've drawn thousands. Tens of thousands of man-hours. So if somebody wants to rip my idea , go ahead. If somebody wants to overtake me in the business card doodle wars, go ahead. You've got many long years in front of you. And unlike me, you won't be doing it for the joy of it. You'll be doing it for some self-loathing, ill-informed, lame-ass mercenary reason. So the years will be even longer and far, far more painful. Lucky you." Hugh is influential because he has earned it: he has been showing up, every day, drawing and blogging and sharing his opinions and generally depositing into more than he withdraws from the emotional bank account he shares with his community of followers. He doesn't do things because he is influential; he is influential because he does things.
And this is where I struggle with the premise behind Klout, the system that rates how influential people are on social media. Yes, I realize that it can be a great method of finding like-minded, thoughtful people with a certain interest or expertise. But it is set up so that the carrot, the reward, is the influence you have, and that is backwards. Influence is not a reward or an end result. It is a byproduct of actually being good.
Robert Jordan said, "If you want to be a writer, go be an accountant. If you want to write, write." Hugh MacLeod said, "I think it's too easy to confuse the AMBITION of doing something, with the actual DOING of something. That confusion is the domain of the amateur..." A service like Klout promotes the ambition of being influential, but there are no shortcuts. Show up. Express yourself wholeheartedly. Deliver value. Ask yourself what you can give your community. The influence will take care of itself.