I'm not. I'm competent, and my Internet readers know me well. But you're a small band – perhaps a few hundred regulars in all. You're not growing. I'm not on TV, I don't write books. I realized some time ago I am what I am, a journalist working the backwaters of technology, listening to sources and parroting what they say.
But I have learned, in my maturity, to admire those who can do more, even when they started out well behind me.
Take Anthony Bourdain. He's near my age and admits to having taken just the wrong path through life. He was a druggie cook for about two decades, his lungs always filled with smoke, his late nights (by his own admission) filled with cocaine and heroin.
Then at about age 40, he got angry, he got frustrated, he decided he wanted more. He sat down and started writing, hating the fame and pretension around him, vowing to tell just the truth and to never “sell out” like “that little ewok” Emeril, the Food Network, the whole celebrity-chef gourmet scene.
The result was “Kitchen Confidential,” a classic which told the truth about American kitchen life. Brutally honest, howlingly funny, with a unique voice that (it turned out) poured right out of him, unedited, whenever you talked to him.
I want to travel, he said. I want to see all those places I didn't see when I was younger, taste all those tastes I wrote I'd never taste, talk to all those people I thought I'd never talk to. And so, ostensibly in the name of selling his book, he did “A Cook's Tour” for the dreaded Food Network itself, until its new managers decided that “what you really need to do” is go about the USA celebrating the big portions fat people enjoy. Be nice to “TGI McFunsters” or get out.
I think the Minneapolis show was the last straw. They wanted him to do the Mall of America. Which he did, for about two segments, sneering all the way, before running off to find chefs working with “the good stuff” – offal turned to glory, or ethnic goodies from an exotic ethnicity that made those who made it or ate it think of home. The exotic is all around you, he said, if you only care to look. You don't have to be locked into that mall scene, devouring huge plates of cheese-laden protein, turning the shape of the pigs you're eating.
The Food Network did not want to hear that. They were no longer into challenging Americans' tastes, but celebrating them, in all their excess.
So he got together with his crew, left the old career completely behind, and pitched himself to another network, The Travel Channel, as a star. They bought three episodes, then made him a regular.
Bourdain's transformation through the run of “No Reservations” has been fun to see. He aged, he quit smoking, he re-married and had a kid, even moved to the suburbs.
He apologized personally to Emeril in a show about New Orleans, showing him to be one of the great heroes of Katrina. He sat in Beirut while war raged around him, delighted in the South Korea of his assistant Kai, wandered both Russia and America with his friend Zamir. As time passed he became one of “them,” a member of the celebrity jet set, a name, eating the best plates in the kitchens of the very best chefs, and making some of the very best travel television ever, classic stuff that will stand the test of time.
And he hasn't lost his way with words, as evidenced by his latest Medium Raw (above).
Even though the Food Network now owns the Travel Channel, he has his niche, his audience, his numbers. They can't chase him away again, and even if they do he'll land on his feet.
At 40, Anthony Bourdain reinvented himself and became a star. I love his writing, but I admire that most of all. That he would dare to become the man he always wanted to be. In mid-life.
It's a lesson I've taken on, in very small ways. I've had to, as the world changed around me. After working as a reporter for over a decade, then pretending to be a consultant and expert on Internet commerce, I reinvented myself in my late 40s as a blogger, got a paying gig with ZDNet, and found myself, at 55, a “well-known expert” on the open source industry, which is a topic of intense interest worldwide.
It's a small deal, a minor re-invention, nothing like Bourdain's, and certainly accompanied by a lot less wealth, fame or (I'll admit it) talent. But it's possible, and that's the lesson I want you to take away from all this.
You can be the person you most want to be. Just go out there and become. If you don't like who you are, no matter your age, become someone else.
You can do it. If the druggie chef can do it, if a mediocre tech reporter can do it, you can too.