I think it's fair to say that George Clooney has had a successful career. Never mind that he starred on ER, which was, at the time, the most successful show on television. He would later go on to headline films like the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, Batman & Robin, Up in the Air, and Syriana--the latter of which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Along the way, he's been nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards, winning twice.
That's not a bad career, even if Clooney himself would say that maybe the Batman film is worth forgetting. The point is, he's been about as successful as someone in his chosen career could be.
Despite that, in a recent interview with GQ, Clooney revealed that there's something in his life more important than simply starring in movies. I think it happens to be a revealing lesson we all could learn from.
There was a story, told by one of Clooney's friends, that he had once given 14 of his closest friends $1 million each. Certainly, that's a remarkably generous gift, but there's really more to it than that.
It was 2013, after the film Gravity--which was a much bigger success than anyone had anticipated. At the time, Clooney wasn't yet married and didn't have a family. So when his payday came in for that film, he decided to give the money away to 14 of his closest friends.
He literally gave them all a suitcase full of cash.
As Clooney confirmed in that GQ interview, the people in his life were far more important than the money he had accumulated:
What I do have are these guys who've all, over a period of 35 years, helped me in one way or another. I've slept on their couches when I was broke. They loaned me money when I was broke. They helped me when I needed help over the years. And I've helped them over the years. We're all good friends. And I thought, you know, without them I don't have any of this. And we're all really close, and I just thought basically if I get hit by a bus, they're all in the will. So why the [f---] am I waiting to get hit by a bus?
Here's why I think this is such a great lesson: It highlights that even the most incredibly successful people still need other people. That can be easy to forget.
When you see someone successful, it's easy to think that it's always been that way. You only see the success, not whatever it took to get there. Often that involves a lot of things that don't look like success at all. Sleeping on a friend's couch doesn't look like success. But the truth is, it's not at all uncommon among people trying to "make it." The same is true of being broke.
The number of entrepreneurs who hit the bottom long before they ever made it to the top is infinitely longer than the list of instant successes. That's the myth of the "overnight success." Most are usually years (if not decades) in the making. You only see what happens the morning after success finally comes.
It's actually not all that uncommon for successful people to have the same problem. They forget about what happened before success. Clooney, on the other hand, had not forgotten the role his friends had played in his life.
By the way, it wasn't that he was trying to pay them back. Instead, it was a way of saying, thank you. I think that's an important distinction. When you pay someone back, it's because you feel that you owe it to them. Simply paying someone back doesn't celebrate their role in your life, it just clears up an obligation.
What Clooney did is different. It was a recognition that the money wouldn't actually add value to his life, but the people did. The people were more important. That's a powerful demonstration of emotional intelligence, especially because it's so rare.