Every 36 YearsSeptember 14, 2018
In 1982, Emerson Junior High School, in its ninth-grade poll, awarded me “Most Comical” and “Steve Martin.” Since then I’ve successfully navigated all awards and recognition. A month ago a friend, Anne Maffei, texted me: “Please respond to my brother, he wants to give you an award that recognizes your work.”
Anne’s brother is Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, a mass media firm founded by the original gangster of cable, John Malone (#badass). Before that, Greg was CFO of Microsoft … which feels even more gangster/uber-cool to me. I think being CFO of the evil empire of the nineties is as close to Darth Vader of the corporate world as one can get. But Greg is too likable to be the Dark Lord, so I envision him as Darth Vader after he defeats the Emperor, removes his mask, and returns from the dark side.
So, a quick search of my inbox and there they are, emails from Greg and his colleagues congratulating me as the 2018 recipient of the “Liberty in Media” award. I had been gracious enough to ignore them for two months. Liberty, five years ago, crafted an award for an author or journalist who writes about the intersection of politics and the economy. I’m pretty sure Greg is a billionaire, as all the elected officials at the event were really, really nice to him (see above: CFO of Microsoft in the nineties), and I think it’s fitting a professor was too out to lunch to respond. So, I got back to Greg (“Yes, this is awesome … thanks”) and agreed to accept the award at a ceremony in DC over dinner and drinks at the Newseum — “DC’s favorite museum” in 2016 according to The Washingtonian.
I am excited about the day, but anxious/uneasy. I’m nervous that I’m flying too close to the sun. That, in sum:
I’m. A. Fraud.
Increased attention/recognition puts a guy on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Who are you kidding, you’re a fraud.” Whenever success came my way, it’s because I was “fooling them.” I didn’t warrant the recognition of an academic, nor the rewards of an entrepreneur. An anxiety, always there, that I’d be found out for what I really am, the son of a secretary, who did poorly in school, did not invest in relationships, was selfish, and isn’t that gifted. Someone whose only real talent was self-promotion and taking credit for other people’s work. A fraud.
The anxiety is sort of dissipating as I realize most successful people reach beyond their grasp. Seventy percent of Americans admit to impostor syndrome. Unless you take time to squash these thoughts, they get louder, psychologists say. So I cut myself some slack, as there’s been some hard work/risk/giving along the way. Still, always the insecurity whispering in my ear, “I know who you really are.” I trust/hope this is insecurity, not common sense or clarity.
Anxious/Insecure Scott Goes to Washington
A great day. I meet with Senators Warner (D-VA) and Bennet (D-CO), who’ve taken an interest in our work, as they want to better understand if and how big tech should be regulated. I burst into song about the unintended consequences of regulation, and that the better move is to oxygenate the marketplace with antitrust. A lot of back and forth, and as the meetings draw to a close I deploy the fail-safe weapon and ask, “When has antitrust not worked?” Senators and legislative aides are momentarily speechless. Like any great leader or politician, they have convinced me that they like me, which makes it impossible for me not to like them back.
I haven’t spent much time in DC and have preconceived notions that it’s a dysfunctional place full of ineffective people who are self-serving and, for lack of a better term, “political.” After spending a decent amount of time with Senators Warner and Bennet, I came away feeling great about America. Senator Warner is a strapping guy who, after making hundreds of millions in the telco industry, is focused on ensuring Russians don’t subterfuge our democracy (again). He’s also figuring out how the US bests the Chinese in AI. Senator Bennet was a school superintendent who was appointed, by the governor, to the vacant Senate seat (he’s been re-elected twice since) and will not rest until he restores the economic vibrancy of the middle class. I felt grateful to live in a country that elects people this smart and good to be the stewards of our nation.
The dinner and award ceremony were wonderful. Overlooking the Capitol, reflecting on the day, I loved being American. Despite the voice on my shoulder, I summoned the skills to present well during the conversation with Greg … who is great at helping others be better at what they do. I had friends in the audience ranging from my best friend from the fourth grade, to new friends from Florida, and a dozen in-between. Like many important events, there were moments of melancholy. I wish my mom could have seen me. I wish my dad was well enough to have been there. I have a good friend who attended whose husband is very sick, and I could feel some of the weight and sadness she bears, and how generous it was of her to be there. I also felt the love of friends and my wife, who got on planes and trains for six hours to cement this moment for me. Achievement is just a moment in pencil unless you can share it with people you care about. Then it becomes real, a memory in permanent ink. The voice of insecurity is still on my shoulder. However, it dims as I feel American, relevant, and loved.
Life is so rich,