Bonnie Greer: Do the best you can – and forget about growing up to be famous

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The Independent Online

What you're always being told these days is, "You can be famous, you can be a winner". And the flip side of that is that if you aren't famous, if you aren't a winner, than you're nothing. You're a loser.

Now I'm not going to stand here and tell you something corny like, "You're all winners 'cause you're here". You all know that. But I am going to tell you something that is hard for me to say and might be hard for you to hear, and I'm saying this to you when you're young. But you need to find this out. Most of you will not be famous; most of you will be unknown. Except to your families, your friends and those who love you.

What am I saying? I'm saying that The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent etc... all of that is a lie. Simon Cowell is getting rich because he's selling the lie that "you" will be "the one". That's not real life. Life is not just a matter of will, although that plays a part. Life is also bad things happening to good people; good things happening to bad people. There is luck and there is bad luck; good timing, bad timing – all the stuff that you will have no control over. This is life.

If you live in a dream world, in which there's a movie in your head starring you, with soundtrack provided by you, you'll be doomed. You've got to wise up. Right now. You will have to do the work... and it starts now. Get all the knowledge you can. All of it. Soak it up. Talk to and listen to your elders, your teachers, see what they have to say. Help your friends do likewise. Don't listen to those who present a quick fix. Turn the media off for one day, so that you can think for yourself, hear your own voice.

I've just published a book about President Obama and I read a lot about him. One thing that struck me is that the President never allowed himself to take his eye off his goal. And that goal was not to be famous. But in wanting to be the best that he was, and to help others, he became arguably one of the most famous people of all times.

Prepare yourself for the future, a future in which you will probably be unknown. But you will never be forgotten.

Taken from a talk given at the weekend by the author and critic at Black to the Future, a conference for black teenagers at the London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE)