A famous middle aged man is revealed as a sex pest, a cheat, a bully, or someone who has lied about his sexuality. He is influential, admired, affluent, seemingly he has everything. But… underneath all this success there may be something less pleasant going on. He is taking risks which could expose him. Any passing person with a phone could be the paparazzo who snaps him with the secret lover; he may have left an ineradicable trail of embarrassing posts on WhatsApp. If he’s given to crude ‘banter’ and unwanted touching, he will discover that young people will report it.
So why does he do it when the chances of being caught are so high?
Many of the most recent examples are media celebrities. I first met the words The Talent about twenty years ago when I was working with a coaching client who was a senior manager at the BBC. The phrase was new to me even though a few years before that I had worked for many years as a TV producer myself. My client explained that being The Talent meant you were considered to be untouchable. You were constantly told you were wonderful, you never heard any negative feedback. Cars were sent for you so that you never had to travel by public transport. You were very well paid because the fear was that you would defect to a rival network. The great untold but widely known secret is that mostly The Talent is not particularly talented. There are many others with acting ability, there are others who could read an autocue nicely, many people who could chatter away on a music show or interview other celebs while they tell you their many-times-rehearsed stories.
The Talent knows this, for all their apparent cockiness. It eats away at you, you know you are living your life with a false front and it’s exhausting. It’s not only media celebs who are affected. You might be a prominent lawyer, the founder and majority shareholder of a commercial enterprise, an aristocrat, a big name journalist, a famous chef.
The pressure can become intolerable. You yearn for excitement, for something genuine, for someone to love you for yourself not for the ‘brand’ you have become. If you know the phrase ‘impostor syndrome’ you might diagnose yourself as having it. Your relationships at home have become stale. Your partner may be fed up with you, critical where others dare not speak. This is when you begin to take risks. You don’t see that an affair with a very young intern is exploitative or that buying expensive clothing for someone on a modest salary might raise suspicions for this young person’s parents. Your sense of entitlement has got out of hand; you think you are too big to fail. Drugs or alcohol may be involved, but after all, doesn’t everybody?
The crash is appalling. Your career is over. People snigger when they hear your name, even though, as I have said many times to clients in this crisis, the public memory is short. Your marriage ends, your children refuse to speak to you. If you have done something illegal, you may have been given a prison sentence.
Nonetheless, out of these ruins there can be hope. The solution lies in exploring and then acknowledging your own part in what has happened without blaming the person who exposed you, the press, your hormones, your mid-life crisis, your former employer. You may seek help from a priest, a therapist, or from a coach like me. We are unshockable. We don’t let you get away with foolish excuses but we are merciful and kind. We accept you for who you are without judgement. We will have met your scenario before. Once you have embarked on this work, and it is work, hard work, a new life is possible. No, it won’t be like the old life, it will use long-buried skills and some newly developed ones. You will be anonymous and possibly poorly paid. But you will have that precious thing: the well-grounded self-respect which was entirely missing from your old life.