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How to avoid being “fan boy” or “fan girl” when building relationships with people you admire

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Over the years, I have developed deep respect for authors  like Jim Collins, Martha Beck, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Kathy Sierra, Steven Pressfield and Isabelle Allende.  I adore the wit and creativity of people like Ze Frank and Hugh McLeod. I appreciate the down-to-earth business wisdom of John Jantsch, Rich and Jeff Sloan and Andrea Lee.

Maybe your list includes Joel Spolsky or Malcolm Gladwell or Anne Lamott.  Or someone with much less public exposure, like the Vice President of your company, or your neighbor down the street with a fantastic marriage or the woman at your gym who has six kids and abs of steel.

Whomever you note on your “cool smart I wanna be like them when I grow up” list, you can and should look for ways to build relationships with them.

But, as creatures still stinging from the social dynamics of junior high, we can fall into “fan boy or fan girl traps” which not only make us feel insecure, but turn off the very people we are trying to impress.

So here are my tips, learned from the school of hard knocks:

Fan Boy and Fan Girl Traps to Avoid

  1. You are the best and I worship you!  Lather, rinse, repeat.
    I often start correspondence with people I admire by telling them how great they are.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, as long as you say it sincerely and with no ulterior motive.  The problem is when you continually gush in each subsequent conversation.  It gets uncomfortable and tiresome for them and gets in the way of good conversation for you.Alternative:  You are the best and I worship you.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to know each other.  Have you read this book?
  2. I am a nobody.
    In an attempt to be humble, you may write “I don’t mean to bother you with my message, since I know you are doing great things and I am a nobody.” This is rubbish.  We are all equal.  Some people have accomplished a lot in their lives, written great works, sculpted strong glutes, or whatever you consider noteworthy.  But this does not make them a superior human being.  You can have admiration for someone while still being proud of who you are.  It goes to my theory of relationships formed in Jr. High:  no one wants the person who needs them too much.  Don’t be the girl (or boy) desperate for a date.Alternative:  You are very cool, and so am I in my own right. (Don’t use those words of course, but convey it in your attitude, conversation and body language, if meeting in person)
  3. I will convince you that I am worthy by spouting off my entire CV.
    I just said that you are somebody worth talking to.  This is true!  But you don’t need to reinforce this by sharing your every accomplishment since getting a gold star for “most cooperative” in preschool.  Let the relationship develop naturally.  As you share information and converse, each of you will develop natural interest in the other.  Or not!Alternative:  Save the marketing pitch for your evening telemarketing job.  Be yourself, and trust that if you make a real connection with someone you admire, they will be interested in you.  If they aren’t, you can continue to admire their work from afar and pursue other mutually beneficial relationships.
  4. Nice to meet you!  Please, oh please, will you be my mentor?
    Think about the current mentors in your life.  Did you like and trust them immediately?  Or did your relationship grow with time and work and mutual support?  Sometimes in your desire to learn as much as you can from people you admire, you ask them for specific support and guidance without having any consideration for their time.  A favorite is “you are an expert in my field, would you mind reviewing my 20-page business plan?”Alternative: Respect your own time and that of busy people.  Mentors grow naturally, they are not manufactured.  More tips on finding a mentor here.
  5. You know everyone.  Please link to my stuff.
    We are all familiar with the context in which the word “foreplay” is normally used.  The same applies to building business relationships. Just as you wouldn’t grope a potential mate the first time you meet him or her at a party, you shouldn’t immediately demand an intimate business action upon meeting someone new.  I think linking to someone is an intimate act.  It means I like what I read, and trust the source.Alterative:  It is absolutely fine to say “This is what I’m working on.  I thought you might be interested.  Enjoy!”  Just leave off  “would you link to it?”  Or even worse, “I’ll link to you if you link to me.”  If you wrote a true gem that fits with their audience’s needs, they will link to it.  If not, move on.
  6. You can do no wrong.
    Everyone screws up. Sometimes we overlook glaring faults because of our cult-like devotion to the image of a person we admire.  This is not helpful to you or to them.Alternative:  When someone you admire does something you don’t agree with, let them know in a kind and straightforward way.  “I really admire your business sense.  But your latest advertising partnership with “Stomp bunnies and puppies LLC” seems really out of sync with who you are.  What is your rationale for this decision?” Or “You are the most brilliant person I know in x subject.  But telling a female reader of your blog to stop pulling “that woman stuff” on you was demeaning to your character, not to mention highly damaging to your brand given the amount of female clients who purchase your services.  I suggest apologizing for the comment, since it could have some long-lasting negative consequences to your business.”

I still get giddy when in the presence of people I admire.  When I got to meet and interview childhood feminist icon Gloria Steinem, I was quite nervous.  So if you heed my advice, know that I need it as much as you do.

Please share your anti-fan boy or fan girl tips here!

 

30 Responses to “How to avoid being “fan boy” or “fan girl” when building relationships with people you admire”

  1. Adarsh says:

    You find a lot of “link to my stuff” requests in the blogosphere.

    It was an excellent article. I find the problem you described most with celebrities. People worship them like Gods.

  2. [...] merge,” where you feel an unexplainable desire to be in their presence.  Yes, at times it is fan boy or fan girl behavior, but very powerful nonetheless.  If you really pay attention, you will notice that you [...]

  3. Caryn says:

    One thing that helps is to realize that almost everybody is somebody’s hero, idol, etc. at one point and for something. I’ve had people more accomplished than I raving about this or that thing I’ve done, and I’ve thought, “But you’re so amazing and I’m nothing special.” Then I realized that if someone could look up to me, especially someone I myself have admired, and I feel so normal, maybe our heroes/idols feel the same way. That makes them seem more real, and makes it easier to act around them like I would around anyone else.

  4. Kelly says:

    Oh my gawd! I laughed my a** off at the possessed woman photos. I met Barbara Kingsolver and did the same thing, except I look like a goofy school kid.

    Great post Pam. I think you helped me tremendously when you reminded me to tell what services I bring and if it isn’t a fit, offer to help find someone who IS a fit.

    My world has changed tremendously, in no small part bc of you.

    YOUR fan girl ;-)
    Kelly

  5. Naomi says:

    Great post.

    Actually, on the subject of famous people, I’m continually surprised how awesome, brave and interesting not famous people are.

    Everyone has a story. I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. But sometimes, instead of being ‘fame struck’ it’s better to get on and talk to the person sitting right next to you. You might be surprised at what you learn.

  6. Ellen Hart says:

    This article was a delight to read because I certainly relate to falling into “fan girl” mode. It’s human nature to be in awe of those we admire and it’s fun to laugh at ourselves when we do so. Thanks for the advice on how to build productive relationships!

  7. It’s kind of fascinating to me that people are able to connect so easily with people they admire. Ten years ago, being able to casually talk to someone like John Hodgeman from the Daily Show or the author of a book I particularly enjoyed (I’m looking at you Mr. Kawasaki), wasn’t even something in any realm of possibility.

    Now, in this world of Twitter, Facebook and email, I can reach out and touch pretty much anyone easily and quickly. (And even get a response!!)

    Incredible. How large a world and yet how small it’s getting day by day.

    Fantastic post!

  8. Read Pam’s How to avoid being

    I was with my wife and son once walking around the lower east side of Manhattan, where he lived, when we ran into an oscar-winning movie star (no names in this one) having tea at some five-table place. My son

  9. Todd says:

    Great stuff. It seems you’re basically saying, “Be authentic and courteous. And, oh yeah, it’s okay to be a little psycho as long as no one gets hurt!” Great pics of you meeting with Gloria!

  10. So appropriate. We are seeing a strange parasocial culture rise up, and people need to remember that most bloggers are geeks, too. Pedestals are extremely uncomfortable.

  11. Drea says:

    Pam, this is my first time on your blog and I was really inspired by your post! I’m a horrible fan girl. Once I had to interview a famous Tibetan activist (as a journalist). I was so in awe of his demeanor that I asked a few questions, then just let him walk away instead of composing myself and asking more. Argh! I think that was the “I am a nobody” syndrome :).

    Drea

  12. Karl Staib says:

    Mentors grow naturally, they are not manufactured.

    Excellent point. A lot of us, me included, want to jump in and just find a mentor. We don’t want to go through the whole dating process, which is a mistake. Not every person we look up to will be a good mentor. It’s best to take it slow and build a relationship.

  13. Job Hacking says:

    “Oh, I’m such a big fan of yours…”

    Over the course of my career, and more so now that I’m a third-party recruiter, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of really amazing people. Even a few who are famous or well-known in their

  14. Pam you are the best! I can’t live without your writing and I’m pretty sure the earth revolves on the axis of your pen point.

    I’m nothing in comparison, in fact I shouldn’t even write this because I know how busy you are with greatness.

    OK maybe I did write an amazing amount of material last year, and I am part of varying large consortiums of the brightest people ever.

    Still, I need a mentor and you’d be the best. Pretty please?

    Even better, would you link to my site because your traffic must just be insane! It would really help me out.

    Whatever you decide; it’s probably for the best. You always make the right decisions in the end.

    Lovingly yours,

    Robert

    (7. Tell a joke. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the temptation :-)

    You are hilarious!

    Wonderful way to work in all the points.

    Yes to all, but I will only link to you if you link to me. ;)

    -Pam

  15. Pam, I’m your #1 fan boy.

    I am the PSFC (Pam Slim Fan Club) Chairman-for-life!
    :-)

    Amadou

  16. Pam, “You are the best and I worship you.” haha — this is a fascinating post — I too have been guilty and know I am on the admiration police watch list — funny story — I too love Seth Godin and early on struck up an email discourse with him (I think I was so amazed that true to his word — he answers every email) So after few back & forths I asked if it was too much — he replied pithily “Your getting close.” Honest and straightforward — lesson learned – I have a lot of respect for SG and am still amazed how accessible people like him and the one’s you mention are — we have to respect that they are people too, just like us! kind of :-)

  17. gayle says:

    Very very true. Any time I’ve met someone who is a leader in their field at an event, it seems the last thing they want to talk deeply about is their field. They like current events, politics and the occasional People Magazine too.

    Just always be your authentic, true self (and don’t drool ).

  18. One trap to avoid is asking for something (information, mentoring, resources, time, whatever) without offering something in exchange. I met one of my heroes, Angela Davis, recently and wanted to have my picture taken with her but was wary of appearing like a crazed fan so I mentioned to her that I had reviewed one of her books for a college literary journal and had also ended up using it in a large research paper. There was a bit of normal conversation and then I asked if I might have a picture taken with her. She graciously agreed. I think the bottom line is to offer something when you ask, otherwise you end up looking like a moocher which is, needless to say, ever so unattractive to your hero.

  19. Hi Pam, interesting article!
    You know what, recently I learn something, a mindset on becoming a “people-collector”. Turn the admiration into empowerment, instead of feeling weak or “I am nobody”, let’s think of we are actually doing an active effort while learning, that is collecting.

    Doing we may not have time, but we certainly have time for collecting.

    I want to share the link here but it seems not allowed, you can check my latest article on “people collector” if you like.

    Cheers,
    Robert

  20. So true… about 10% of the people I deal with in my day job are famous. Ofen we are besieged with photo requests and autographs, and my clients, to their credit, treat all with respect. But it is tiresome, so your advice to simply say “You are great. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…” is spot on, and combined with a dose of self-respect, and patience will go a long way.
    Darn,there goes another “man-crush.”

  21. I’ve noticed that the most well-known or “important” people I’ve encountered have seemed almost desparate for a normal, authentic conversation.

  22. Hey, you’re awesome.

    Great post, I kinda needed this one today.

    The linking thing can definitely get out of control. I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, but it’s uncomfortable on the receiving end, too.

    Sometimes it’s just hard not to drool.

  23. Annie Binns says:

    My technique is a bit different. I go for fame-by-association and tell my internet contacts that I post comments on Pam Slim’s blog every now and then. You should see their jaws drop. Oh wait … that’s just in my head. But I bet it happens.

    You kill me Annie.

    Repeat after me: My name is Annie and I am the coolest chick on the block.
    ;)
    -Pam

  24. Oh, and write thoughtful comments on their blog often, and good Twitter @replies, whatever, so long as you bring something to the table.

    The only time gushing “You’re awesome!” works is when you’re standing in line at Rite Aid and Richard Hatch, the original BSG Apollo, is standing right behind you. Super nice guy BTW :-)

  25. Re: point 3, the best way to prove yourself “worthy” is to have a smart, well written blog.

    Also, if you find something worth talking about (don’t just link to them for the heck of it) on your hero’s blog write a post about it. They’ll see the incoming link in their dashboard and they’ll follow the pingback to see what you’re about.

  26. Worst post I’ve read, couldn’t disagree more. Too much?

  27. bowreality says:

    Great blog and I just ordered your book. So much for fan-girl talk ;-)
    I found these ads (via notcot.org) and thought you would like them too:
    http://lasblogenpunto.blogspot.com/2008/06/monster-cambia-de-trabajo-todava-estas.html

  28. Dave Atkins says:

    I like this post; it is so easy to lose perspective. A related issue is feeling like these people you admire are so great…but then, if you talk to a person who is not into the area you are interested in, you quickly find that the person you think is on top of the world is unknown to many, many people. You look like an even bigger dork when you name drop and nobody else knows who the person is. Guy Kawasaki–something to do with motorcycles? Seth Godin? Wasn’t he in Austin Powers? Don’t misunderstand me; I’m being ironic, but it helps to realize that the people we look up to are, for many, completely unknown. We’re all just trying to make our way in the world, so there is no reason you can’t be an equal to anyone else.

    I am so with you Dave! I mention the Guys and Seths of the world to a lot of people in my life and experience the classic response:

    —total silence—crickets chirping—more silence—puzzled look

    Fame is relative, isn’t it?
    :)
    -Pam

  29. Wise words, with all the more weight thanks to the humanity of “oops” behind them. :) (Hey, haven’t we all transgressed in moments of “Ohboyohboyohboy!”?)

    Totally echoes what I’ve heard from the “internet famous” themselves as well.

    Although, why is Pam Slim missing from the list of the awesome and famous…?

    Oh Mel, you know that flattery will get you everywhere. :)

    I’m just a suburban Mom with a bad blogging habit in East Mesa.

    -Pam

  30. Oh my, did you nail this one!

    If you think about attraction principles (which this post is slathered in) desperation never reels them in.

    Authentic relationship building happens without force. Once you take the fame away from the person and see them as a human being, they’re just another person. Ask anyone who knows famous people and they’ll tell you that. They get spinach stuck on their front teeth just like you and I do.

    Awesome commentary Pam!
    :-)
    Nancy Marmolejo

    Thanks Nancy!

    How did you know that I get spinach stuck in my teeth all the time? Really, I do! Perceptive one, you. :)

    -Pam

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