The Profile: The marathon men who can't go home & the app causing body dysmorphia

We idolize, worship, and envy relationships, careers, and lives of people we've never even met.

Good morning, friends!

Be careful what you believe.

We've become a society with wandering eyes. We idolize, worship, and envy relationships, careers, and lives of people we've never even met. And then we clutch our pearls in horror when we find out that Bill and Melinda Gates are filing for divorce or that Jeff Bezos has been sending "below-the-belt" selfies to, well, anyone.

In school, we were taught to suspend disbelief when reading works of fiction. We were urged to become immersed in the narrative and get emotionally invested in the characters even though we knew the story wasn't true. Now, we're doing it in real life. You don't know Bill and Melinda, and you certainly don't (nor would you want to) know what Bezos does after dark.

I've been thinking about this since someone recently told me, "I feel like I know you, but I don't actually know you." They meant that after reading The Profile for years and seeing some of my tweets, they had an idea of the real me. Of course, they were seeing the version I wanted them to see. They didn't see the days where I was mourning the loss of a loved one, having a private conversation with my husband, or spending 17 hours in bed as I recovered from COVID.

To you, dear reader, I am words on a page that reliably appear in your inbox every Sunday morning. You've suspended belief to allow me to exist in your life.

My point is this: There's a certain performative nature to all of us. In a society that expects transparency and over-sharing, we end up seemingly showing our "true nature" that is completely disassociated from reality. Author Tara Westover says that for most people, “sharing themselves” online means carefully curating an identity that exaggerates some qualities while repressing others that they consider to be undesirable.

"Online, no one has acne or dark circles or a temper; no one washes dishes, does laundry or scrubs toilets," Westover says. "Mostly, we brunch. And we take exotic, rarified vacations. We pet sea turtles. We throw ourselves from airplanes." Online, we repress our ignorance, and therefore, we deny ourselves the capacity to learn. We repress our faults, and we deny our capacity to change.

I know what you're thinking: "Polina, you share profiles of successful people all the time. Aren't you just helping propagate this culture of worshipping success?"

This is not what I ever want The Profile to be. This is why I strive to highlight the good and the bad. After studying and interviewing so many people, I'm not enamored by any of them. It's because I understand that success doesn't exist in a vacuum — people are dealing with family drama, money problems, insecurities — all sorts of human messiness on a daily basis.

It would behoove us to understand that there's a difference between learning and idolizing. Take world chess champion Mangus Carlsen as an example. Carlsen was only 13 years old when he became a grandmaster, so interviewers loved to ask him about his idols.

He explains that he's learned a lot from players including Vladimir Kramnik, Garry Kasparov, and Bobby Fischer, but he doesn't idolize a single one of them.

"It's never really been my style, according to my philosophy, to idolize players, to try to copy them. I just try to learn and get the best from the great masters, contemporary and from the past," he says. In other words, learning allowed him to understand his strengths and the weaknesses while forming his own original style.

In a 1983 ABC News interview, Al Pacino is asked: "What is acting?" He looks at the interviewer in the eyes and says: "It's what we're doing right now. That's acting." Even off screen, he was performing.

Because of Pacino's illustrious career, he is considered one of the most iconic actors that's ever lived — yet he had a pretty tumultuous personal life.

At age 81, Pacino has three children but he's never been married, a choice that likely stems from his early experience with his own parents, who divorced when he was only two years old. Pacino is self-aware enough to know that he's given up certain things along the way in order to fulfill his goals of excelling in his professional life. "The actor becomes an emotional athlete," he says. "The process is painful — my personal life suffers."

Remember, if you could follow in the exact footsteps of someone who has achieved the upper echelons of success in your field, would you? Ask yourself: Am I willing to make the same sacrifices, the same missteps, and the same trade-offs? Remember that with the good also comes the bad.

Idolizing forces you into blindly worshipping imperfect humans. Learning, on the other hand, allows you to observe, synthesize, and pave your own imperfect path.

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THE PROFILE DOSSIER: On Wednesday, premium members received The Profile Dossier, a comprehensive deep-dive on a prominent individual. It featured Al Pacino, Hollywood’s favorite gangster. Become a premium member to read it here.

PROFILES.

The marathon men who can't go home[**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
The Pokémon king
The man who runs the show at Google
The tennis champion turned business star
The most dominant swimmer on the planet
The photo-editing app causing body dysmorphia
— The startups fueling the future of fertility

PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The marathon men who can't go home: In the north Bronx, there's a small group of elite Ethiopian runners with big dreams. Each of them had come to America with the hope of making life-changing money that they could send back home to their families. What they found was an often desperate existence in their adopted homeland. Meet the athletes trying to make ends meet as they yearn for a chance to race. (GQ)

“Running is my business. It’s my life. When the COVID came, it cut my business, it impact my life.”

The Pokémon king: Gary Haase, a 67-year-old father of three from Las Vegas, has a Pokémon card collection worth more than $10 million, making it the most expensive in the world. Known as the King Pokémon, Haase, has obsessively collected Pokémon cards since 1998 and become a bona fide celebrity. Haase, however, is perfectly content not to profit from this moment. Although his cards represent 80% of his net worth, he refuses to cash in. Why? (Input Magazine)

“If I gave everything up, sure, I’d have the money, which would be pretty substantial. But I’d kind of be losing who I was. I would feel lost.”

The man who runs the show at Google: Prabhakar Raghavan runs search, ads, commerce, maps, payments, and Google Assistant, businesses that bring in the lion’s share of Google's revenue. And he’s paid like a CEO—last year the company paid him $55 million in salary and stock. In his first interview since taking a top job, Raghavan discusses the future of search, misinformation, employee ferment, and robots making phone calls. (WIRED)

"Having an impact on the scale of billions, like Google, is such a rush, and with the brightest minds on the planet."

The tennis champion turned business star: Naomi Osaka's star is rising — not just in tennis but in business. The tennis champion is making headphones with Beats, athleisure with Nike, denim with Levi’s, designing dresses with Adeam, and swimwear with Frankies Bikinis. In April, she announced that she would serve as CEO of her own company: Kinlò, a line of skin care made for people with melanated skin tones, produced with GoDaddy. According to Forbes, she made $37.4 million in endorsements and tournament prizes between May 2019 and May 2020, the most a female athlete has ever earned in a single year. Here's how Osaka became everyone’s favorite spokesmodel. (The New York Times)

“I’m really good at tennis, but I’d like to be really good at other things, too.”

The most dominant swimmer on the planet: The 24-year-old competitive swimmer Katie Ledecky has done more solo training in the past year than ever before. It makes the already unusual run-up to the Tokyo Olympics even more so for the most dominant swimmer on the planet. Here's what Ledecky's training regimen has entailed. (WSJ; reply to this email if you can't access this article)

“I’ve been swimming in a lane by myself for over a year now."

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

The photo-editing app causing body dysmorphia: The massively popular photo-editing app Facetune is driving a generation of young women to extreme and obsessive lengths to look flawless online. As our worlds shift to the virtual, looking "perfect" has become an addiction as more and more people are using photo-retouching technology to reshape their bodies and tweak their facial features in photos. "If I’m not coming to Kylie Jenner-level of perfection on a photo, literally what is the point of posting it," says one 22-year-old Facetune user. (The Huffington Post)

"Facetune makes it harder for her to love herself, but at least she can love her selfie."

The startups fueling the future of fertility: Today’s fertility entrepreneurs represent a new, proactive attitude toward reproduction, centered on pre-emptive treatments during one’s most fertile years. This shift opens up a potentially limitless market. Anticipating regret is essential to the business model. If the old goal was to make a baby, accounting for lost time, the new goal is to make fertility, starting at any age. Here's how startups like Kindbody, Extend Fertility, and Prelude Fertility are attempting to decouple sex from reproduction. (The New Yorker)

“It’s very cheesy, Instagrammable, but it’s all about owning your future and you having control."


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AUDIO TO HEAR.

Rob Henderson on why people value social status: In this interview, academic Rob Henderson explains why we carry ourselves the way we do, why we partake in certain activities, and why we ultimately all care about social status. "Ultimately, why do we want these things? Why do we want friends? Why do we want romantic partners," Henderson asks. This is a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation. (Link available to premium members.)

Katie Ledecky on the road to greatness: Katie Ledecky found her passion for swimming when she was 12 years old. She was a competitive kid who played many sports, but she ultimately decided to commit to swimming. It's hard to reconcile her aggression in the pool with her humble disposition outside of it. "I still get goosebumps when I'm up [on the podium] at world championships and Olympics," she says. (Link available to premium members.)

Tyler Cowen on the future of society: In this episode, economics professor Tyler Cowen discusses how society will evolve drastically in the years to come. "Technology changes all the time," he says, "so you need to re-train yourself every three to five years. And retraining yourself is very hard for a lot of people." Here's how he recommends you stay current so you don't get left behind. (Link available to premium members.)

VIDEOS TO SEE.

Al Pacino on his humble beginnings: When the interviewer asks legendary actor Al Pacino if he feels like he's a survivor in Hollywood, he responds with: "I feel like I'm a survivor everywhere," he says. "I come from a very poor background. I come from the South Bronx in New York. I come from a broken home. The most accurate description of me would be 'survivor.'" This is a great interview. (Link available to premium members.)

Garth Brooks’s humble rise to meteoric fame: Country artist Garth Brooks is the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history. In this biographical documentary, we see Brooks’s humble beginnings, his ability to captivate an audience, and why he suddenly chose to give it all up. It’s a really good one. (Link available to premium members.)


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