The Dangers of Surpassing Your Idols (and Dave Chappelle)

I care about the work I do, but I’m not going to say that money’s not an issue.” – Dave Chappelle

(Photo: Benjamingettinger’s)

A while back my good friend had a nervous breakdown. It lasted about a week. He was not hospitalized but spent day in and day out in his house crying and staring at the walls without reaching out to anyone. After that episode, we talked a great deal as I tried to help him find the reason for his breakdown and the possible catalyst.

We talked about what events took place right before his episode. As we rehashed his life, the only one event that stood out was that he got a raise a week prior. That seemed to be a strange catalyst for someone to have a nervous breakdown, especially since his job title did not change and no more responsibility was asked of him. He had also received many raises before without any negative consequences. What made this raise different? As we talked, I casually asked how much money his father, who still worked, was making at the time? This was when all the parts came together.

His father, whom he looked up to and who has worked all of his life, was making a comfortable living. Now with my friend getting his raise he realized that he was now making more money than his father. Even though it was not a conscious realization at the time of his breakdown we both agreed that it had to be the cause.

I have talked about this to Frederic Lehrman, whose opinion on the psychology of money I respect, he points out that these types of occurrences happen more frequently than people realize. The idea of surpassing our parents or idols whether with money or success is more monumental than many people realize.

So how might this apply to you?

If you are stuck making roughly the same salary year after year, you might find that you are probably making the same amount that your parents did at their prime without even realizing it. What’s more amazing is that not only is that subconsciously implanted in us, it is also as Frederic Lehrman pointed out inflation adjusted. So if your parents were making $20,000 a year 30 years ago at their prime you may find that you are stuck not making more than around $50,000 a year now, which is roughly what $20,000 is if we adjust for inflation. This is certainly not the case for everyone but it is a large component that often is overlooked. But why does this happen?

Why do some people hit road blocks when surpassing their parents? Whether it is in financial successes or overall success? My belief is that when we surpass our idols it transforms them from being idols to becoming regular people. There is something painful when we realize that our father is not superman but an average man with warts and flaws. During the years we had worshiped him we were worshipping our concocted fantasy and not reality. For some this is a very painful realization. By never surpassing our parents, we allow them to stay ideal in our minds.

(Photo: Sam.soneja)

This brings me to Dave Chappelle. At the high point of his career having just been offered a $55 million dollar contract from Viacom, Dave stunned the world when he abruptly left the show and more or less show business. That incident always stood out in my mind since things did not fully make sense. For example, Dave has stated that his reason for leaving was that he felt the sketches on the show had become “socially irresponsible”. Being the creator and writer he could have easily changed the direction of the show. The other reason given was that he did not like the working environment. But certainly when you are the star at the pinnacle of your career, you create the environment you want and the network will jump through hoops to make it happen. Something never added up about Dave quitting the show. It’s not till I started writing this article that I decided to look if “Surpassing your idol” might have been a hidden factor in Dave’s decision.

One of the biggest influences in Dave Chappelle’s career has been Eddie Murphy, not only did he greatly influence his comedy but Dave also cast Eddie’s brother as a regular on his show. Dave has spoken numerous times about the tremendous reverence he has for Eddie Murphy. If we look at Eddie’s career the most money he ever made was on the movie Nutty Professor II: The Klumps just a few years before Dave walked off his show. The contract entitled Eddie to a salary of $20 million dollars plus 20% of the gross. (It was very wise for Eddie to take 20% of the GROSS and not the NET since Hollywoods numbers are never to be trusted.)

So what do the numbers look like? Nutty Professor II made around $166 million dollars worldwide. This netted Eddie Murphy around $32 million dollars from the gross plus another $20 million as a salary for the total of $52 million dollars at most. Dave’s contract was for close to $55 million dollars, making Dave a larger star than Eddie Murphy as far as showbiz was concerned.

It must have been a very strange and surreal to all of a sudden be seen by Hollywood and the world as being more valuable and bigger than someone you had idolized all of your life.

Does this explain why Dave left? No, I am sure there were many factors at play. In my opinion, it’s hard not think that there is a very large possibility that being thrust into showbiz stratosphere and the surreal feeling of surpassing your childhood idol was at least a partial factor in Dave choosing to leave the whirlwind of Hollywood to live a more simple and humble life.

Most people never consciously realize the psychological baggage that they may be carrying around about money and how that influences their day to day decisions. I have stated numerous times that I believe our subconscious (and conscious) relationship to money plays a much larger role in our net worth than how intelligent, educated or hard working we are. Being able to look at your relationship to money honestly and openly should be the first step on your journey to financial independence.

Michael Page

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  1. Mike – I really related to this article, thanks for writing it. Firstly because I love Dave Chapelle so much and think it’s a travesty he left and hasn’t come back, and second because it makes me think about my own success. How surpassing not only an idol, but a goal can make it seem so ordinary. I wonder about how goals can get in the way, because in some sense they too can be inherently limiting, as in capping our full potential to be great and a faster scale.

  2. Reader says:

    Long Story Short: Fear of Success, overall nice article even though i already know these principles but i just choose not to move forward it’s like something freezing me! or it’s like i think it’s not worth it, maybe i am having some depression. Don’t know !

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