Most people are better in the abstract

As a kid, you may have idolized a certain celebrity. This person might have been a rock star, a movie star, a famous author or a professional athlete. You may have had posters on your bedroom wall and you may have read up on everything there was to be read on this person. One day, you see an announcement in the local paper that this celebrity is coming to your town.

You just have to go see him.

You line up for hours at the mall, anxious to get his autograph. You can barely hold in your anticipation. You have all these burning questions you’re just dying to ask. You can’t wait. The line starts to move. It’s almost your turn. Then, you see him seated on that folding chair behind an otherwise nondescript table.

Oh, he’s kind of balding. Oh, he doesn’t quite have the imposing presence you expected. He’s kind of, well, normal-looking, as if he could be a worker at the mall and not some famous celebrity here to greet his adoring fans.

He signs the cover of the magazine you brought and, before you have a chance to even shake his hand, before you have a chance to ask any of those questions you had prepared, you’re ushered off to make room for the next person in line.

All you got out of the transaction was an illegible Sharpie scribble on your magazine cover and half a smirk in your direction as he glanced up to return said magazine back to you. That’s it. This is not at all what you had hoped. Nor could it ever have been.

The abstract idea of someone will always be superior to the objective reality. You can build up this celebrity or idol, placing him on a pedestal and focusing only on the positive attributes. But of course he has flaws. Of course, he can never live up to your impossibly high expectations. This is true both of actual celebrities and of the Facebook version of friends and colleagues.

I think it would be amazing to meet someone like Elon Musk in person. He is easily one of the greatest minds and most ambitious entrepreneurs of our generation. He is the real world version of Tony Stark, perhaps without the overblown personality issues. But meeting him in person would likely dash apart this abstract ideal I have of him in my head.

The same is likely true of Hayao Miyazaki, Shigeru Miyamoto, Stephen Colbert, or Patrick Stewart. Actually, nix that. I’m absolutely positive that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is just as delightful in real life as we see him on TV.

There is nothing wrong with looking up to successful people. They can inspire you to do amazing things, encouraging to work harder and smarter toward your goals. But just as a reward might not feel so fantastic after you finally get to hold it in your hands, the abstract perception of a celebrity can serve as a source of purpose and direction in your life, guiding you toward epic greatness.