I've met two famous authors on airplanes, and their differences taught me a big life lesson.
I've traveled a lot for twenty years, sometimes flying on as many as 400 planes a year. I've met a lot of interesting people along the way, from every walk of life, and have had amazing seat-mate conversations with famous athletes, actors, producers, CEOs, trust fund kids, and thousands of people working in almost every job you can imagine. If they want to talk, we talk. And sometimes, four hours can pass like twenty minutes. But if they want to sleep or read or work, or maybe watch the latest blockbuster, I always have my own stuff to do, as well. And yet, I advise trying to start up a conversation, or giving one a chance. What you can learn as a result is truly life-enhancing, as you likely may know from your own experience.
Last night, as I tried to get to sleep, I found myself recalling two famous Christian authors I met some time ago on two different airplanes. One spent all our time together on telling me how great he was; the other, on telling me how great I was.
The first guy made sure that I and everyone around us knew how many books he had published, and how wild about his sales his publisher was, how spectacularly well his books were doing at Barnes and Noble, in particular, and on various bestseller lists, even regaling us with monthly sales figures and details about store placements in the big chains. Within fifteen minutes, I knew that he was number one seller in several categories, and how he could command the big stores to do his will in ways customarily thought impossible. I learned that he addressed huge multitudes and regularly signed books until his hand almost fell off.
The other guy, I had met briefly when I was a college student, many decades ago, when I had attended one of his talks, and he was already a pretty famous speaker and writer at the time. Over the years, he had continued to build a following. When I recognized him and said hello to him on the plane, he stared at me for a second and then said, "I remember you from your college days." I said, "Really?" I was shocked. He must have met a million people along the way. He said, "I've been following your work as a philosopher and hold it in high value. I'm really proud of you." I was astonished that he remembered this southern kid he once met long ago, and that he had actually noticed what I had been doing with my life. I was floored. And, of course, gratified. I hardly knew what to say. He then wanted to know more about my life since we had first met.
Lest you try to guess identities, I should quickly point out that neither of these guys was or is a pastor at a mega church. But both have sold a lot of books. Of course, I can give you exact sales numbers for only one of them. The lesson for me was simple. I was deeply alienated by the guy cared so much about his own success and deeply touched by the man who cared so much about me. And I'm pretty sure my reactions were entirely normal. Let's always try to remember that, Ok? Let's be like the guy who was in the end more eager to ask than to tell, who cared about other people more than his own eminence.
A little success can blow us up like hot air balloons. We have to be careful about it. I could tell you more stories about this same contrast of attitudes in other famous people I've met along the way, but then ... I'd start sounding like the wrong guy. So, instead, let me ask about you.