Lifestyle Magazine

Meeting Your Heroes (without Embarrassing Yourself!)

By Saturnsatori
Meeting your heroes (without embarrassing yourself!)
Last week, I attended Arianna Huffington’s presentation for her new book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In case you are wondering, she is the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, a charge that is only one milestone on her long string of high-profile career accomplishments in the fields of journalism, politics and writing (this was her 14th book already!), which have earned her inclusions in Time Magazine’s Most Influential list, as well as being named one of the Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine. Yet there she was, talking with a friendly and open disposition to us, completely stripped of any arrogance or airs of any kind.
Regardless, when the time for questions from the audience arrived, people seemed to be so intimidated by her presence! At one point, even a journalist held up the dynamic for a couple of minutes as she seemed to be unable to gather the required focus to properly word the question she wanted to ask. Funny thing is, being stunned by your idol or by some other figure of authority is not such an uncommon happening. I remember witnessing how star-struck fans struggled to conjure some eloquence during the Q&A session with A.M. Holmes a couple of years ago—their ideas getting diluted in a sea of sloppy, and over-the-top praise. 

Meeting your heroes (without embarrassing yourself!)

A.M. Holmes. Despite the dark and heavy topics explored in her books, she's a writer full of charisma and star quality.

For most of us, these rare opportunities to interact with somebody we deeply respect and admire; therefore, it would be on everyone’s best interest to make the most out of them. How can you avoid being that fan that goes hysterical and ends up looking completely pathetic, even making the other person feel awkward? How can you cause a good impression on your hero? How can you manage to extract a meaningful conversation or even get some advice from someone whose work is a great source of inspiration for you? Here are a few tips that might help:

Remember: they are just people!

The main culprit for star-struck behavior is the perception that the person in front of you is some sort of mythical, invulnerable being that stands high on a pedestal far above from us, mere mortals. That is not true! Even though they might have achieved things that many of us only dream of, they are still people like you and me, with hopes and dreams, flaws and insecurities and the desire to be liked and accepted. Maybe their confidence and aura of success might eclipse their weaknesses, but they are also sentient human beings who worry, and care, and can feel embarrassed and awkward as well (well, unless they are Madonna). So, put both of you on the same level for a moment, and talk to them in the way you would if you were talking to one of your friends (after all, you probably know a lot of the person in question!). Be casual on your way of speaking but remain respectful, make eye contact (but don’t glare at them!), and try your best not to make weird jokes or potentially offensive/polemic comments. Also, don’t come so close that you invade their personal space or make physical contact by your own initiative: let them be the ones to decide the tone of the interaction.

Don’t come off as a worshipper

 When finally facing the author of that work that changed your life, it can be tempting to quickly gush out the whole “OMG I’m your biggest fan, you are the best human being EVER, I can’t possibly tell you how much of an amazingly great hero you are” sort of speech. However sincere, let’s face it: that’s not really a very effective or useful (or even original!) pitch. They probably hear stuff like that all the time, anyway; also, we tend to look down on people that we perceive as desperate, which you might accidentally come off as being if everything  that comes out of your mouth is the “I’m not worthy of your divine presence!” sort of over-appreciative babble. Instead of praising them, try focusing on their work instead: what is it that you like so much about it? What makes it different to others, what makes it stand out for you? Why do you find it meaningful? I am sure that they will find this kind of feedback much more interesting and valuable.
If you truly want to let them know in more detail how much their work means to you, write a letter or a note and give it to them so they can read it later in a moment of quietness. It will have a much better effect than having them listening as you struggle to over-excitedly articulate your feelings while there are a lot of distractions and mayhem in the room dividing their attention.

Focus on them, not on YOU

This might sound counter-intuitive, but another powerful factor that turns people into incoherent babblers –or mute spectators!– when faced with their idols, is that paradoxically they are thinking about themselves the whole time! “I wonder if my hair looks OK” “Oh, God, why did I say that! He must be thinking I’m an idiot now” “She’s so beautiful, I feel like an orc by comparison” “My hands are so sweaty I can’t even… I wonder if she noticed” “Does my breath smell?” Knock it off! Self-consciousness is your enemy here. Shift your attention towards them instead; listen very carefully to what they say, their body language, and their mannerisms, take it all in. After all, this is what you wanted out of this opportunity, didn't you? A chance to meet your hero and see what he or she is like in person. 

Meeting your heroes (without embarrassing yourself!)

Meeting singer and violinist Emilie Autumn, one of my biggest influences and inspirations!

Don’t take it personally. 

Sometimes the experience does not go quite like you expected, and your hero looks not-so-happy, distracted or impatient to get out of there. Keep in mind that when they tour they have really hectic schedules and therefore they might have to run to the next event. If they don’t look wildly entertained by your talking, or even come off as a little bit cranky, avoid reaching for the instant conclusion that a) They think you are an idiot unworthy of their time or b) Your idol is actually a jerk! Give them the benefit of the doubt, instead. The really extraordinary ones will still be very patient and good humored under most circumstances, but they are only human, so they can be moody or even snap when feeling irritated due to tiredness or a very tight schedule. Don’t take it personally, most of this kind of behavior is not about you. Also, respect the cues they give you: if their body language –or spoken language!– tells you that they want to go, do not keep them from it.
* * *
Those pointers work well in my experience. Previously, I wondered how I would feel when meeting someone famous or whom I admired deeply–as is one of those things that you cannot really tell for sure until they actually happen. To my surprise, I turned out to be feeling surprisingly calmed and comfortable in such situations. I definitely feel the thrill and buzz of meeting them, and surely feel a bit self-conscious sometimes, but I think I usually manage to remain calmed and collected enough to have a nice chat. I mean, I even extracted a mini-interview out of A.M. Holmes that time! 
Have you ever met one of your idols/heroes or someone whose work has been a great source of inspiration or influence for you? How did you react in that situation? 
Do you have any tips to make the most out of the experience? Share with us in the comment section.
Thanks for reading!

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