The Perils of Youthful Fame (Tiger Woods Edition)

Bill Simmons on Tiger Woods and the effects of fame during one's formative years:

Did we underestimate the effects of fame in his formative years on Tiger? Become famous at an early age and invariably you "mature" into someone who can't remember anything other than being famous. Most (if not all) of your interactions are with people who are impressed by you or want something from you. You don't have to win anyone over. You don't have to work on being a better person, or funnier, or nicer, or anything. You don't want to make new friends because you can't tell if any prospective friends want to be friends because you're who you are, so you end up gravitating toward other famous people, most of whom are just as messed up as you. You can get away with almost any indiscretion and be forgiven. Your only responsibility is to stay yourself, but you became this twisted, self-aware version of you without even knowing it. And that's when the trouble starts.

Right. One problem with youthful fame in general is that it makes you risk averse at a time in life when you are supposed to be taking risks. Child stars who stumble in adulthood may do so because they did not acquire life lessons usually obtained in conventional youth, when the cost of failure is low and thus benefits of experimentation (of all sorts) are high.


Robin Hanson once asked Tyler Cowen whether increased influence and fame through his blog has made him less interesting and weird. Robin thinks it has. Here's Clive Thompson's piece in Wired about the Age of the Micro-Celebrity: fame dynamics are at work even on a very small scale.

14 comments on “The Perils of Youthful Fame (Tiger Woods Edition)
  • Child stars cannot bear to regard themselves simply as playthings of blind chance; they never would credit randomness with that which is its due and dare to laugh at probabilities. They don’t pause and ask ‘How hard I worked for it?’ (say – Tiger’s luck with the blondes). Or why is this thing, that is not directly in my line of expertise, `is’ up for easy grabs?’. They enjoy forever being in self-broadcast mode; taking things for granted masks them with assumptions of invincibility and they meet their destiny on the road they take to avoid it.

  • Luckily I have been pretty good at failing so I don’t have any of those problems. 🙂

    Ben, how has your success changed you?

    Like that micro-celebrity link, I don’t think people need substantial success to feel and act like rock stars. Too many people think they are going to be the next Oprah or Gary Vee.

    Perhaps everyone thinks that life should be just like the Hollywood movies they watch? The problem with Tiger Woods is that his life IS a Hollywood movie.

  • This flies right in the face of the assumption that Tiger had to work extremely hard to bring his amazing golf talents to bear fruit (waking up at 4am to get to the driving range, working out, strict diets, Earl Woods’ training regime).

    If he could understand the need to work hard on the golf course, I’m puzzled, but not entirely surprised why he hasn’t brought the same attitude off the golf course.

    On a side note, Tiger’s crisis reminds me of a famous star that managed both fame and monogamy.

    “I had no natural gift to be anything… So I’ve worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me.”
    -Paul Newman

  • Ben,

    This is exactly what I was referring to in our Skype conversation about the value of youthful privacy. Because too much openness increases the pressure for personality consistency, which is arguably a bad thing early in life.


  • Right. Even "micro success" can create a fame effect. No one is immune, it
    just depends on the scale.

    Myself, as this blog, say, has gained more readers, I have probably become
    more risk averse in what I write about.

  • Ben – you know the saying “a man is only as good as his options”?

    For all the analysis, do you think Tiger is really any more messed up than the avg 30 something American male?

    What would you expect to happen if you gave a supposedly well adjusted guy off the street that kind of money, power, fame and access to beautiful women?

  • What about people who are naturally risk averse but not famous? Are they messed up to, or are they missing a few other variables?

  • There’s a corollary here to education here as well. Adolescents now have access to gobs of information well before maturity. The lines between knowing what you want – something developed over time and experience – and being exposed to things you may not understand that affect what you want are blurring. This may not be a bad thing if the timing and content of the information (like fame) is right on, but it can have disastrous consequences for the unprepared.

    I’m a big believer in exposing oneself to as much information as possible, through culture, travel, people and the internet. Yet, like fame, it’s hard to know what to do with all of it. Spending time finding yourself – discovering what turns you on/off – and playing to your strengths provides you the compass to guide you through it.

    You have to learn to just be and you are.

  • What do you think about young entrepreneurs (not referring to you specifically but general)? There was a story in the Chronicle I think awhile back (can’t find the link) about a young Indian guy who started his own company, became super wealthy but somehow his success led his downfall for a bit before somehow sorting it out and trying to regain his footing.

    Independent fashion blogging is an interesting space to watch with quite a few young stars. Tavi, the 13-year-old who runs Style Rookie penned a column for Harper’s Bazaar and previewed Rodarte’s line for Target. There’s some debate someone at her age will mature and develop not just stylistically but overall when or if the spotlight fades on her.

  • Heck, replace “fame” with “beauty” and the same can be applied to hot women. Or any circumstance in youth that is extrordinary. Access to resources without having to earn said access reduces the value of the resources in question. Which can lead to poor behavior in regards to those resources. But then, fame or no fame, does lack of character have any plausible excuse?

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