Do you remember the first time you looked up at someone and said ‘that’s who I want to be?’ Maybe it was a character in a Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe it was a relative who spared you lots of time. Maybe it was the man in the ice-cream van, with his unlimited access to tasty treats.
As we grow up our heroes change. From cartoon heroes and idealized dreams they turn into real world leaders and figures from history, sports stars and celebrities. Then we reach adulthood and find models to look up to in our own fields.
But all of this ignores the best hero that you can have – yourself.
Our home heroes
Our first heroes are often our parents, or people who remind us of them. After all, they shape our values and ideals, offering our earliest models of what an adult should be. We look at them from the playroom floor and we see images of perfection. Any psychologist will tell you that our parents play a monumental role in shaping us.
But as we grow up the cracks start to show. We see our parents for the real, flawed human beings that they are. Many of us rebel against them as we find our own set of values, our own sense of self.
We can still take inspiration from them, but we need more.
Our celebrity heroes
As we move on we latch onto celebrities, figures in the public eye we aspire to be like. It’s the time to dream of being a sports star, a highflying musician, a best-selling writer. We look at their glamorous lifestyles, their incredible achievements, and we decide that’s who we want to be.
And there’s something to take from that. After all, many of these people are famous for good reason. Their creativity and dedication show us ways we can live, things we can work towards. They show that you can forge your own path, dream your own dream.
But the celebrities we see and the people behind them are not the same. The heroes we’re aspiring towards have no grounding in reality, they’re public acts rather than people we can be.
We can still take inspiration from them, but we move on.
Our work heroes
Once we find a path to travel, a career to settle into, we find heroes there. These are heroes with flaws as well as virtues, and rooted in the same work that we do. Some are still distant, world famous entrepreneurs and CEOs. Some are more local, senior managers in our own organizations, leaders who steer us through the rapids of work. We dream of being what they are, doing what they do, standing for what they stand for.
But these people already exist. The niches we dream of filling are already filled. None of us can be Bill Gates – he’s doing that already, the chance to take that slot has passed.
We can still take inspiration from these heroes, but we need to move on.
Your own hero
There is only one person who can combine all the qualities you want in your heroes and still live a real life. One person who can find the perfect niche for you. One person who can balance the flaws and the virtues of your life.
That person is you.
Be your own hero. Instead of aspiring to be like others as best you can, aspire to be you as best you can.
Do the best work you’re capable of.
Build the best relationships you know how.
Learn the skills you’ve always wanted to learn, and keep practicing them.
Inspire yourself, and maybe you’ll inspire a few others along the way. Maybe you’ll be a hero they’ll learn from, and from whom they’ll then move on. Just as they should.