I was saddened today to learn of Gary Coleman’s death at the age of 42. Not because he was some genius talent, but because he wasn’t. Although talent plays an important part in our successes, it isn’t 100% of our success in life. How hard we work, how much resilience we have in the face of adversity, and old-fashioned luck play a part in our success in life.
Gary Coleman may have had some talent. But that amount of talent doesn’t explain his huge popularity in the hit ’80s TV show Diff’rent Strokes. And his life after the sitcom illustrates a sad fact that a lot of child stars hit their peak professionally before they turn 20.
Our celebrity culture, and our belief in the idea that talent alone will create success. Malcom Gladwell wrote a great book on the nature of success called outliers. He noted that recipe for success is far more complex than talent, it includes a good dollop of luck.
These child stars believe that they are the result of talent rather than luck. They think that the world owes them fame even after their 15 minutes are up. So often these child stars believe that they are nothing if they aren’t acting, and if they aren’t in the public eye. And when things don’t go well, they resort to substance abuse, spouse abuse and other negative behaviours, largely because they have not faced adversity before.
And so, instead of moving on to a different career, and a different type of life out of the limelight, they stay stuck.
Meantime, my lesson from this sad episode is to be thankful for the good luck I have had in my life. My talent is the result of a particularly lucky genetic throw of the dice. It is up to me to decide what to do with it, and up to chance to determine whether it will make a difference to both me and the world.
Rest in peace, Gary Coleman.