In his 1961 book, The Image, Daniel J. Boorstin noted, “The celebrity is the person who is known for his well-knownness.”
Nearly half a century later, the ever-expanding phenomenon of self-created, self-publicized “expertainers” contains a paradoxical niche profession known as Motivational Speakers—people who are mostly successful at selling books and giving lectures about success. A sort of meta-success.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Suze Orman, Financial Guru with her own show (The Suze Orman Show) on CNBC, was not always a brilliant financial advisor. She started out as a waitress, serving up pastries, cakes, cookies, brownies at the Buttercup Bakery in Berkeley, California. At age 29, she received a business loan of $50,000 to open her own restaurant, and she decided to invest the money in the stock market. Within 4 months, she lost the money to a swindling stock broker at Merrill Lynch. (No problem: to pay back the loan, she, herself, became a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch, and eventually the vice-president of Prudential Bache Securities.) In her 28 years since leaving the bakery, she has gone on to earn $32 million by authoring seven pop-culture financial advice books and hanging out with Oprah all the time. Still no restaurant of her own, though.
At age 18, having already read over 700 motivational books, Tony Robbins was, “alone, overweight, broke and sad in a bachelor apartment in Venice, California,” but “within one year he turned his whole life around.” He became known as, “the 19 year old kid that became a millionaire in less than one year by transforming his whole life.” Of course, that mysterious million dollars earned in one year is $2,739 a day, and you certainly can’t make that much selling BluBlockers on Venice Beach.
So how did he do it? The man with the malfunctioning pituitary gland (who was thrown out of his parents’ house at age 17 for being “too intense”) allegedly discovered he had a mutant power for selling tickets to Jim Rohn seminars. 30 years later, everyone’s favorite Neuro-Linguistic Programmer and Fire-walker is selling front row tickets to his very own “Unleash The Power Within” performances for a mere $2595.
In Germany and Scandinavia, a “Dr. Phil” is the name of a doctoral degree. In the US however, Dr. Phil signifies something completely different; it’s the celebrity moniker for Phillip Calvin McGraw. Another TV personality who hangs out with Oprah a lot, he met her when his own company, Courtroom Services, Inc., was hired to prepare her for a 3-year lawsuit called the Amarillo Texas Beef Trial. Oprah was so impressed with his work that she invited him to appear on her show regularly as a “Relationship and Life Strategy Expert.” 13 books (and an appearance on The Simpsons) later, Dr. Phil’s entertainment career is as strategic as ever. Not bad for a guy who isn’t even a licensed psychologist!
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There are numerous other examples of these meta-successful beings: Born Eben W. Pagan, “Double Your Dating” creator David DeAngelo claims to have been a rock guitarist in a former life (but no evidence of this can be found, unfortunately). Deepak Chopra won the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in physics for “his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness.” Zig Ziglar’s real first name is Hilary. And of course, Matt Foley never actually existed outside of the set of Saturday Night Live.
Un-credilble pasts aside, these expertainers have all proven in their own ways that success actually works.
This article was originally published by Mental Floss in March 2008.