Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.
In fact, the calling usually starts young. As a college student, the future Thought Leader is bathed in attention. His college application essay, “I Went to Panama to Teach the Natives About Math but They Ended Up Teaching Me About Life,” is widely praised by guidance counselors. On campus he finds himself enmeshed in a new social contract: Young people provide their middle-aged professors with optimism and flattery, and the professors provide them with grade inflation. He is widely recognized for his concern for humanity. (He spends spring break unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.)
Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention. At first his prose is upbeat and smarmy, with a peppy faux sincerity associated with professional cheerleading.
Within a few years, though, his mood has shifted from smarm to snark. There is no writer so obscure as a 26-year-old writer. So he is suddenly consumed by ambition anxiety — the desperate need to prove that he is superior in sensibility to people who are superior to him in status. Soon he will be writing blog posts marked by coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people: “Kelly Clarkson: Satan or Merely His Spawn?”
SOMEBODY’S pants crease wasn’t very sharp, huh?!
Gosh, I hope my “coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people” like David Brooks isn’t too obvious in this blog post.
What in the hell is going on here? iowahawk has a theory:
@methuselaschild Apparently it started as a subtweet insult of Ezra Klein, and ended as a bizarre descent into madness.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) December 17, 2013
Oh, I didn’t quote you the end of the column yet.
The tragedy of middle-aged fame is that the fullest glare of attention comes just when a person is most acutely aware of his own mediocrity. By his late 50s, the Thought Leader is a lion of his industry, but he is bruised by snarky comments from new versions of his formerly jerkish self. Of course, this is when he utters his cries for civility and good manners, which are really just pleas for mercy to spare his tender spots.
In the end, though, a lifetime of bullet points are replaced by foreboding. Toward the end of his life the Thought Leader is regularly engaging in a phenomenon known as the powerless lunch. He and another formerly prominent person gather to have a portentous conversation of no importance whatsoever. In the fading of the light, he is gravely concerned about the way everything is going to hell.
Still, one rarely finds an octogenarian with status anxiety. He is beyond the battle for attention. Death approaches. Cruelly, it smells like reverence.
To me, it smells like VICTORY.