India's Shah Rukh Khan is one of the most popular actors in the world. Like many notables, he gets attention often: A recent Netflix special showed hundreds of locals surrounding his house to get a "Hello" from him. It is an extreme macrocosm of what we all experience when we found, we create or we build something that has an impact and become the face of it to the public.
It also means you become representative of every criticism, elation or disappointment someone feels towards what you built.
Talking with David Letterman, Khan explains how he handles the chaos of stardom.
I just work here
When Letterman visits Khan's home, he sees the intimidating crowd waiting outside. It is the celebration Eid, and there seems to be even more commotion than usual.
Letterman asks how middle-aged Khan, who has navigated stardom since young adulthood, stays gracious with the constant barrage of attention.
"I am an employee of the myth."
It seemed to make Letterman pause. I had the same reaction.
You versus your impact
Khan is saying that the idea of him and, perhaps, what he represents to his people and beyond, is much bigger than him as an individual. His job is to fulfill that role.
We have more in common with him than you may think. You don't found a company; you become a founder. You don't write a book; you become an author. The language itself shows the transformative process.
It also emphasizes your responsiblity for whatever you are bringing into the world.
It's crucial to understand that Khan isn't saying he loses himself to the myth or that he sacrificed himself at the alter of Bollywood. No, he's saying that managing intense public opinion, losing some privacy and staying focused on the art is all part of his job. Your perception of opinion, privacy and focus often must evolve with any new, sustainable act of creation you do.
Separating you from your idea
Lastly, as much as there is a bonding to the big idea, there is also a clear-cut separation. To paraphrase his conversation with Letterman, Khan the myth may be at million-dollar movie premieres, but Khan the man prefers cooking quietly at home with his family.
The slight distance between the public and the private can help you weather the inevitable storms when your new product flops, your team makes a noticeable error or your business has to shut down. When facing a failure, your world doesn't collapse since your world is separate from just your business persona.
I founded and co-founded two startups, So Quotable and Cuddlr, while I became the primary caretaker of my then-infant son. For the second, popular startup, I was being interviewed for our Wall Street Journal cover story and other notable media, often while I was changing dirty diapers or rocking the baby to sleep. That beautiful, difficult parallel was a blessing, as I never had an issue separating the public from the private.
And yet, when we sold Cuddlr a year later, I shared with one media outlet that they could call me former co-founder of Cuddlr. "We can't do that," they said. "Because you will always be called a founder."