An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

Most people respond, I suspect, to ego strokes. With few exceptions, everybody wants to be somebody. We like the idea of being known and appreciated for our accomplishments in life.

Fear not, fame fans, opportunities await. Hang around the Internet long enough and you’re likely to receive, as I occasionally do, salubrious congratulations for being a worthy nominee for listing in a genuine “Who’s Who.”

Three such invitations came in the past week. One was from “The Heritage Who’s Who,” which describes itself as a registry that includes biographies of “the world’s most accomplished individuals,” an honor “shared by thousands of executives and professionals throughout the world each year.” The idea that “thousands of executives and professionals” receive the honor should be a tip-off that it’s really no great honor at all, though the company claims “Inclusion is considered by many as the single highest mark of achievement.”

If you’re in the market for a high mark of achievement, you don’t even need an invitation — just go to the website where you’ll be invited to register yourself. You’ll also be invited — and this is the catch, of course — to purchase “an annual hard covered, gold leaf inscribed business to business biographical professional directory that distinguishes and honors individuals for their accomplishments in their field of endeavor.” By forking over sufficient cash, the honoree can see his or her name in print, or for an additional fee, purchase a wall plaque declaring the honoree to be a distinguished member of “The Heritage Society of Who’s Who.” Official “memberships” and web listings are also available, no doubt in return for more moolah.

My email from the Continental Who’s Who was more personal: executive director George Malone welcomed me to “our Inner Circle” and insisted “Inclusion in our prestigious organization is a career milestone only available to those who have demonstrated exceptional professional knowledge, expertise and client service – and I think you quintessentially meet those standards.”

Do I think for one moment that Mr. Malone knows anything about me or whether I quintessentially meet the standards of such a high honor? Not for one moment — nor does he know anything about the thousands of other “exceptional professionals” who no doubt received the same email.

In addition to books and a web registry that offers Inner Circle members “proprietary access to a wide network of professionals and executives,” Continental Who’s Who members can arrange 15 seconds of fame by having their face appear on the 23-story Reuters digital billboard in Times Square, along with thumbnails on a variety of websites.

Is any of this for free? Don’t count on it.

I won’t even bother to describe the “Presidential Who’s Who” that promised to propel my career to “empyrian heights” through listing in its auspicious pages.

Are such recognitions really an honor? No, they come from businesses that would be honored to take your money.

Will a “Who’s Who” listing by a commercial company really impress anyone? Only the most naive.

When I was considerably younger and more susceptible to ego-oil, back in the days when such invitations came in embossed envelopes, I purchased a copy of a “Marquis Who’s Who” volume that included my vita. Later I declined to order copies of “Who’s Who in Religion” and “Who’s Who in the World,” even though I was assured that I was already listed. For a brief period, however, I confess to putting the “accomplishments” on my resume.

In time, I learned that neither recognition nor respect can be purchased, and they certainly can’t be bound in a book, no matter how handsome its gold leaf-embossed cover might be.

Who’s who? You are. As my late friend Fred Rogers used to remind his viewers, “You are special just the way you are.”

And being special doesn’t cost you anything at all.

[Image from www.brentfordfc.co.uk/…/0,,10421,00.html]

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