When someone suddenly zooms to power and fame, the newcomer becomes a newsmaker. The instant celebrity assumes an unmistakable aura of importance.
His sentences are quotable — whether or not they are profound, humorous, clairvoyant, cynical, or sarcastic. Everything he does is photographed, reported or hyped in media. He is photogenic and telegenic (even if he is not classically handsome, lean, or attractive).
The rapid ascent to a high altitude on the business scene and the social scale is quite a heady experience. Literally and figuratively.
At sea level, the body is accustomed to an abundant amount of oxygen and some stale air. The instant rise from zero ground level to a 100-point atmospheric level causes physical discomfort and ailments — vertigo, dizziness, giddiness, and shortness of breath.
The ego suddenly gets a lot of massage. Instant fame and power can produce weird, adverse, or unpredictable reactions.
From relative obscurity or mediocrity, an individual who had struck gold or done something impressive takes center stage in a new, unfamiliar and intimidating arena.
These side effects, however, can be minimized or tempered if the ascent is gradual. The adjustment mechanism of the body allows adaptation to changes in environment and altitude.
If the person is basically shy or introverted, he may attempt to overcompensate. Or he may shield himself and his privacy through buffers.
Being in the magnifying, distorting effects of the intense limelight heightens the eerie sensations of fame. Not everyone can cope with ease or adapt gracefully.
The downside of fame is — everything gets blown out of proportion. A well-known writer once said, “Fame is a double-edged sword.”
Proximity to power. Some people enjoy the vicarious thrills of being near famous and powerful people. It is an irresistible magnet to be in orbit around the star of the moment.
The new circle of associates and “friends” expands. Popularity is directly proportional to the perception of star wattage and aura of power. Old friends are sometimes left out and blocked by the recently installed cordon sanitaire. Butterflies, bees, birds (the fair weather variety) and all kinds of groupies flutter around to flatter. The new entourage has assorted satellites — sycophants, fans, social climbers, predators, and opportunists.
The lifestyle change is dramatic and drastic. The newcomer is now upscale and high-end, high maintenance. He develops a penchant for expensive status symbols but he does not necessarily have good taste. He struts around in luxury hotels and posh clubs with security aides. He rides a flashy SUV or limousines and European sports cars. For impact, he flies around in a his own or chartered helicopter or private plane for inspection tours. He wants to avoid traffic and flying high is his trip.
The travel bug bites. Junkets to inaugurations, awards ceremonies are excuses to travel to distant countries — free of charge or on an expense account. This could be courtesy of a bottomless budget. Spend now. Explain later — or no explanation needed.
The buying binges and spending sprees follow. Office renovation includes a new location with a sunset view, new furniture, Persian carpets and fancy electronic gadgets, a Jacuzzi and expensive artworks.
The temptation to show off and to surpass the Joneses is so great. New homes and matching wardrobes and accessories are acquired in the city and plush resort areas.
Few people in high places can remain simple, unassuming, low-key and humble. The lofty attitude and atmosphere cause personality disorders and deterioration.
Flaws appear and distort one’s sense of balance and propriety. He becomes self-centered, pompous, arrogant, and extravagant.
He begins to believe the chanting that he is irreplaceable and indispensable. He believes that he is superior — above the law and ordinary people. To the point of megalomania.
In the corporate setting, climbing the ladder elicits a different type of reaction. Transformation can be subtle. There may not be major external disruptive signs, Well-grounded and well-rounded; the fast-track hardworking executive makes a smooth transition. His attitude, demeanor and lifestyle remain the same. Secure in his capabilities and talent, he continues to work, to achieve, and to receive recognition and awards. Without the need to aggrandize himself to impress others.
On the other side of the coin, the insecure executive undergoes an upheaval in attitude and manner. He starts acting like a hot shot, assumes snooty airs in the rarefied atmosphere of the top floor. His inflated ego demands all the visible perks — a new car, the key to the executive lift, membership at the most exclusive clubs.
A new image is cultivated to fit the new position. Somewhere along the way, he steps on other people. Just to get to the new office with the shiny title on the brass plate.
One effect of being in a high place is a major memory lapse. One has convenient amnesia and selective recall. Until a jolt brings him crashing down to earth.
Racing to the top is like riding a high-speed scenic elevator.
At the summit, the air is different. The view is magnificent. One feels grand, omnipotent and invulnerable. People, things, and issues on ground level seem so tiny, inconsequential and irrelevant.
The power trip of the newcomer is an incomparable ride — a roman candle to blaze in the sky. Awesome, gravity-defying, ego-inflating, illusory, ephemeral. And transitory.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.