In the 1980s and 1990s, when I was a much younger man, my wife and I attended numerous science fiction conventions. What appealed to me the most was meeting all those authors, including some very big names.
Another benefit of attending conventions is that I could learn from the masters. Readers learn a lot, but writers learn far more than the readers. Writers think in a very orderly and logical fashion. It is built into the writing and editing process. Not only could I learn facts at conventions, I could also learn by what was not said. This unscheduled education became the roots of my writing career.
This blog finds its roots in the FIRE* community. And it was an accident at a conference that made it happen!
It started sometime before 2015. I stumbled across a blog called Mr Money Mustache. What attracted me to the blog was the frugal mindset.
In 2015 I discovered that the writer of that blog, Pete Adeney, would be at a small gathering near Seattle. I had to go.
The goal was not just to meet Pete. I had an idea that would fit nicely into his blog.
Mrs. Accountant and I planned a trip to Seattle in late May 2015. I figured as long as I was at a four-day gathering I may as well offer my services by giving a tax class for one of the sessions.
As luck would have it, Pete sat right in front of me as I began to speak at my session. Fifteen minutes in he interrupted me by saying I was his accountant. My plan was getting a twist.
What followed I could never have planned. Pete did in fact hire me as his accountant for five or so years. He even published a post on my presentation and that I was his accountant the following February.
Idol or Cult
For the first time in my life I was going to get an inside look at celebrity. Pete’s blog gets something like 8 million pageviews per month.
With such a large dedicated following Pete’s work took on a cult-like status. I had no idea what I stumbled into but I was soon to find out.
I spent zero effort in erecting firewalls even knowing Pete would publish on our relationship. My attitude was that people would have very little interest in a backwoods accountant from Nowhere, Wisconsin.
My opinion changed the very day of Pete’s blog post publication. The best count I have is over 3,000 emails came in that day alone. Regular clients got lost in the shuffle. The rest of the year saw more emails and phone calls. I have a storefront. It is easy to find me if anyone wishes to contact me.
Firewalls went up, but not before the damage was done. The gloss came off the admiration, or should I say, idolization.
Let me be clear, Pete was not at fault in any way. He apologized often enough and even offered to unpublish the post. I feel strongly that I can help people and asked he keep the post live while I figured out how to deal with my own modest celebrity.
The Dark Side of Idolizing People We Admire
By the time I figured out how to deal with the exposure, Pete and I needed to separate. My business had radically changed and so had I. It was a cordial disengagement and I still think highly of the man. But there is something more I need to share.
The outward appearance of your favorite accountant getting swamped is only one issue.
A disturbing trend became apparent quickly from the people I did take on as clients for taxes and/or consulting from Pete’s blog post.
There were people that paid me to hear how they wanted to be EXACTLY(!) like me. They wanted to be an accountant. In Wisconsin, if possible. And have a farm. Raise animals. A blog.
The world doesn’t know what to do with one of me. Don’t try to be my doppelganger! One of me is enough.
And this is where it turns dark. People paid me real money for consulting. Minutes into the phone call they would break down in tears stating they were an abject failure.
Why do you feel that way, I asked.
Because I am 32 and still not retired, they would reply.
It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Pete retired at 30. It is a big part of his persona on his blog. Some of his readers felt like they failed because they didn’t do exactly as Pete did.
Yes, I talked my consulting client down and explained my philosophy where we don’t worry about what others are doing or did. We take action on what we can and enjoy the ride of life. Don’t be me; don’t be Pete. One of us is more than the planet can tolerate.
Next month I return to southern Texas to meet a man I also highly admire, Ryan Holiday. I’m not as interested in what he says as in how he acts and interacts with people. You see, most of what he says is already in his books.
What I am interested in is how Ryan handles his business in a business that has limits of scale. Those thing unsaid yet speak volumes. Let me explain.
The tax profession is difficult to scale, especially if you handle complex situations. There is only one of me to go around and tax professionals on the same level are hard to find. Yes, I can and do hire support staff and junior accountants. But there is only one me to put the final touch on a tax return or take a consulting session.
Ryan can scale his book sales (demand goes up, fire up the presses). But writing is not as scaleable. Ryan does hire researchers and people to help with the mechanics of his business. But the actual writing and editing is in his wheelhouse alone.
That is what I will have my eyes open for. How does he manage the things that he can’t delegate and are impossible, or nearly impossible, to scale.
Many things about Ryan Holiday appeal to me. For example, he has a farm. So do I. But I didn’t buy a farm because of Ryan! I already had a farm before Ryan was a gleam in his daddy’s eye.
Ryan writes and sells a lot; I write and don’t sell so much. Of course I will be acutely aware of any nuggets he shares on growing a writing practice. But I will NOT write the same types of books Ryan Holiday does. He did it first and am sure he has done it better than I could.
This is where I need to be careful I don’t have a repeat of what happened when I met Pete.
I cannot get a message to Ryan for you. It doesn’t work that way! You need to figure that out on your own.
And please, for the love of God, do not call me for a consulting session and then break down in tears because you haven’t graced the New York Times Bestseller list yet. It is irrelevant what Ryan Holiday does or did compared to you. He isn’t your competition.
You do not want to be Pete. Or Ryan. Or me. You want to be you.
Blaze your own trail. A trail other people are motivated by. Share YOUR gift.
Live your life in a manner that others want to idolize, or better yet, emulate.
Be a role model.
For your kids especially!
For your friends and family, community and anyone who comes in contact with you.
You are special as you. Don’t waste it trying to be someone else. The world needs you. Don’t let us down.
* Financial Independence/Retire Early