A funny thing happened in my practice last week. A number of people, no fewer than seven, lamented, “I’m not Frank Rich.” People are often unhappy and upset when they talk to me. Sometimes they discuss the impact of upbringing and sometimes their problematic temperaments. Never, however, had I heard so many people attributing their malaise to not being Frank Rich. What was the meaning of his entering my office as some kind of iconic blank screen?
One man explained, “He seems humble and ordinary. He went to public schools, and got into Harvard. Then he just did everything right, always making good choices, never taking less than what he was worth. Not like me, just making the same mistakes over and over.”
Was Frank Rich the masochist’s foil, the guy to bring up when you want to make yourself feel bad?
Another woman offered, “Frank Rich is the everyman. He seems stable but he has also created a great career. He comes across as normal but he writes and thinks with great intelligence. And his kids went to Dalton. ”
All right, was Frank Rich the idealized other, the guy to bring up when you want to express your own sophistication through the recognition of his?
Neither of these cliched explanations worked for me. Then I thought about the timing. Frank Rich had just announced that he was leaving The New York Times to start a new writing/editorial venture at New York Magazine. This was probably his third or fourth career change since we have all “known” him. He changes and he grows. Was this at the heart of why so many in my practice would like to be him?
Years working, living and behaving in the same recognized manner creates . . . . stultifying predictability! Transformation implies tolerating becoming a beginner when accustomed to being an expert. Change exposes vulnerability and uncertainty. It often requires a pay cut. Yet, isn’t it exhilarating to be someone other than the person you were twenty-five years ago? People live a long time these days. Reinvention fundamentally defines the experience of anyone living past fifty, or maybe even forty. Yet, unless everyone wants to permanently exist in the resurgent adolescence of a mid-life crisis – complete with motorcycle, tattoos, and facial hair – it is very important to find difference, meaning and challenge within the confines of who you really are as a person.
Frank Rich has reinvented himself so many times while still remaining who he most is – a writer and a cultural analyst. The Frank Rich Syndrome then is the desire to expand the horizon of personal boundaries and to push the limits of a habituated body while still earning a paycheck, honoring talents and limitations, and caring for loved ones. The way to achieve that type of life span evolution is through the flexible application of personal authenticity combined with a fine-tuned analysis of one’s environments. And while Frank Rich may seem to epitomize that type of change, not only can anyone cook, but in this regard, anyone can be him.