Unlike most politicians, former U.S. Senator and Democratic candidate for President, Bill Bradley does not particularly like being recognized. In fact, when he was a teenager and gaining notoriety around St. Louis for his skills on the basketball court, it made him a bit uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he got so good and so well known that he was offered scholarships to seventy-five colleges. He chose Princeton, where in 1964 he was named NCAA player of the year and earned a gold medal as a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Later, Bradley led the New York Knicks for ten years, winning the championship twice, and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine.
I asked Bradley about all the attention that he has received, starting at such a young age, he called it "well-known-ness" and acknowledged that it was indeed something that he had grappled with. It was one reason, he said, that he dropped out of sight after Princeton by moving to the United Kingdom on a Rhodes scholarship, and why, for a short while, he even stopped playing the game he loved.
In his book, Motivation and Personality, psychologist Abraham Maslow has this to say about those he dubbed, "self-actualizing" people: "It's true that they can be solitary without harm to themselves and without discomfort. Furthermore, it is true for almost all that they positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person."
The good among the great are not fans of fame. They recognize the superficial and false promise of it, the inherent falsehood of adulation from those who can't really know them.
An irony is that the good among the great are often thrust into the public eye because of their ability, their outward focus, and their sense of duty to help others. Nonetheless, for the most part, the good among the great avoid the spotlight, for several reasons: fame exposes them and their families to envious scrutiny and criticism; the news media often make mistakes that can add up to severely distorted portrayals; family members and friends who are needy often flock to reporters to sell their personal information (the more intimate and salacious the better), and on and on. And even the most admirable people have something to hide--the inevitable strains of family relations or the lapses of youth.
But the fundamental reason that the good among the great don't get suckered into overexposure is that they simply don't need the recognition. These are self-assured and whole personalities. They were given or have found within themselves and their tight-knit circle of family and friends a much richer vein of positive feedback. Of course, they are human and can enjoy being idolized (witness Warren Buffett's more regular appearances these days on CNBC), but they do not need constant attention and have learned to be on guard against it.
This is a timely subject in an age where most of us are crowded in and around cities, and are encouraged to broadcast our most intimate experiences through Facebook, You Tube and other, free venues that reach global audiences.
The good among the great guard their privacy and their time alone for many reasons, chief among them, discretion. They know that very often, personal news and information is better left unsaid. When it comes to time spent alone, they are comfortable in their own skins and actually relish the time to mull their own thoughts, sifting their reactions, emotions and refining their senses of self and thus their aims, goals and plans for the future.
Another reason the best among us are more protective of their privacy is because they're more genuine than most of us. Their natural spontaneity, expressiveness and honesty can betray them. Thus, the spotlight of media attention can be particularly revealing.
No matter how many cameras she's faced, Meryl Streep still "hates" being photographed. Portrait photographer Brigitte Lacombe, who's taken Streep's picture on dozens of occasions, says "With Meryl, it's a complete struggle to get her to stay in front of the camera." One reason is humility. For the modest, it's uncomfortable to be celebrated. But it may also be that she can't help but reveal much of herself, too much for a private person--those who are true, whole persons are more sincere and their countenances more true, so the rest of us can see into them and they can see back. It's a marvel and very attractive. Though for people like Streep, it's invasive.
Even if you're never thrust into the public forum or cheated of your alone time, let these talented individuals inspire you to celebrate your solitude and prize your private life.
Check out Donald Van De Mark's ongoing series on the 19 Personality Traits of the Best Human Beings
Donald Van de Mark has interviewed hundreds of leaders in business and politics including: Andrew Weil, MD, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Jack Welch, Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Intel's Andy Grove, in his nearly 3 decades as a correspondent and anchor at CNN, CNBC and public television. He integrates practical tips from these great leaders in his book, "The Good Among the Great." Donald is also the host of the corporate training videos,The Wisdom of Caring Leaders and The Wisdom of Teams.