I had two things I wanted to write about today: 1) Seth Godin’s collaborative ebook, What Matters Now, that launched this week; and 2) Jay-Z’s single, “Empire State of Mind.” As it happens, they dovetail nicely into a discussion of what seems to matter now more than anything, based on my assessment of what leads to success in the new world economy. So, Mr. Godin, since you seem to have forgotten to include my name in the list of Important Internet People to consult for your ebook project, here is the one-word-themed entry I might have made to your ebook, but only had I been asked.
It is no longer enough to be good: to succeed in the new world order, you must also know that you are good, and proclaim yourself to be good by making outrageously audacious statements about yourself and making self-conscious decisions that inevitably compare yourself to past examples of greatness. The new BEST is decided by evaluating audacity, even (and especially) when you should realize that the level of success you have (objectively) achieved suggests you should just zip it and go back to drinking Mai Tais by the pool.
Finding audacity in rap music is not revolutionary; still, the lyrics to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” are instructive when discussing a culture of audacity. “I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here,” Jay-Z reasons, “I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere.” Now, why must an undisputed rap mogul assert status in this way, over and over again? In my day, you did not flaunt your success or underscore status like this in a public format. Privately, sure, you might say things like, “Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” after a few too many drinks at the Harvard Club. But you would never go around proclaiming, in a song, no less”New York, New York / (I made you hot, nigga!)”
(You hear that, New York? You were never “hot” until Jay-Z showed up, bought the New Jersey Nets, and turned them into the worst team in basketball, year after year after year. Wait. What?)
But this is not just a trope from rap music! No! We’ve got athletes — Tiger Woods has affairs with 34 women and has the audacity to call one of them up and ask her to change her answering machine message so that his wife cannot call her, not to mention the audacity to believe that multiple mistresses in several cities and parties with prostitutes, and texts, and CHRIST KNOWS WHAT ELSE, will never get out because, well, he’s Tiger Woods? LeBron is walking around in “Witness” shirts and with “Witness” license plates on his car, and “LBJ” letterman jackets, and nobody is batting an eyelash. Politicians — Obama is riding the same train route as Lincoln to his own inauguration, as if to force comparisons between himself and his favorite past President, Lieberman is denouncing his own party because he didn’t get a spot on a presidential ticket? Sarah Palin is presuming to write a book, like with letters and paragraphs AND EVERYTHING?!
Is the world big enough to accommodate the size of all these overblown egos?
But here’s where I really get into the business of audacity because — and I’m not going to lie to you: I love Seth Godin, but he’s not coming away clean here, either, because hello? who presumes to curate a collection called What Matters Now? Is this not, in effect, saying, “Not only do I know what matters now, I have the authority to publish on the topic and to determine from whom else we should hear on the topic.” WOW. Holy audacity.
And audacity doesn’t stop there: Dave Ramsey has the audacity to make me read about God in his entry, and Penelope Trunk has the audacity to pontificate to us on — wait for it — social skills. Hugh MacLeod sagely advises us to “Savor obscurity while it lasts,” which is super useful information and — wait, what the fuck? In the real world, does anybody actually know that Hugh MacLeod is anything but obscure? Some entries from What Matters Now are better than others, and some are more audacious than others, and overall I have to applaud the effort to put out a high-quality information product for the benefit of the community at large. It is generosity that is at the heart of the project, and one of the best reasons for the success of many of the project’s participants.
Plus, I’m a sucker for a good Venn diagram.
But I still have complaints: why is one of the (only) 16 women to be consulted on this project (of over 70 contributors), that flighty chick who wrote Eat, Pray, Love? And why is she not the only one of those 16 women to have credentials that in some way trace back to Oprah? Have we no other sources of female wisdom at our fingertips? And, more importantly, why are these women consulted rather than — God, please forgive me for using them as good examples of anything, but fair is fair — one of the two only women that I can think of who are making a six-figure or above living from blogging (pure blogging, not selling products or exploiting the blogging labor of others)?
Sure, sour grapes, sour grapes, I know. Still, I cannot help feeling the same way today as I did the first time I heard a blogger refer to herself as an “A-list blogger,” or when another blogger responded to a compliment I paid her writing by enthusiastically agreeing with me that she was, in fact, an excellent writer in her own estimation. What happened to humility? What happened to “there is so much left to learn”? And must we all sacrifice a commitment to humility if we, too, hope to someday count ourselves among this burgeoning elite?