“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.” – John Barth, writer
“I have always looked up to her, strived to be like her!”
Jenny was the youngest in her family, with her sister, Barbara, being what she called, ‘the successful one.’ Jenny was married to Bart, and they had a son, Thomas, who was an engineer. Jenny and Bart’s relationships was a stable one, and they were close to Thomas who lived in a neighbouring city.
Jenny and Barbara’s parents were getting on in years, and since they lived across town, it was Jenny who kept an eye on them. Jenny displayed no resentment for this responsibility, and seemed to appreciate the time she spent with her parents in their declining years.
Jenny was a friendly, outgoing individual who worked in the hospitality industry as a customer service representative for a local hotel chain. She liked her work, she said, because she had the opportunity to help people.
Her sister, Barbara, was married to Jeff, and they had twin boys in their early teens, Josh and Justin. They lived out west, but came home every summer to visit with the family. Barbara worked in medical research, and was considered, ‘the successful one’ because she had a lavish lifestyle, and tended to display it during her visits home. She had a reputation for extravagant gift giving, and expensive family outings. Recently, she had bought their parents a new car for Christmas.
Jenny was proud of her sister’s success, and yet, also seemed annoyed by it, at times. When I asked her what had brought her to my office she said,
“Barbara has always been my hero, ever since we were little. I have always looked up to her, strived to be like her. I used to try to dress like her, even talk like her. But, lately, I have been confused, and feel I’m starting to resent her…it is really confusing…” Her eyes started to glisten.
“Admiration is self motivating, but, if it’s infatuation instead, it’s self destructive!
“Jenny?” I said, “Do you have other heroes, besides your sister Barbara?”
She thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, I have always admired Nelson Mandela, Obama, Tiger Woods, and even a couple of music celebrities.”
“Admiration is self motivating, but, if it’s infatuation instead, it is self destructive! Which have you been using, Jenny?”
Jenny stared at me for a moment, blinked a couple of times, and said, “Well, I thought it was admiration…but maybe it has been infatuation…I don’t really know.”
“Jenny, mother nature ensures we get an equal start in life. Unless we have a genetic abnormality, we all get a body capable of amazing things. Your brain is the same as Einstein’s was. Your body is the same as Tiger’s. The difference between people is what we put into our brain, and what we do with our body. Have you ever heard of the 10,000 hours principle?”
“Nope! What is it about?”
“The author, Malcolm Gladwell, researched successful people, and concluded that excellence is usually the result of lots of practice, about 10,000 hours, and not the mythical idea of ‘talent’. His ideas have led a lot of people to realize any human can do, what others call amazing things, if they persist long enough…that dedication and practice are the keys.”
“How does that connect with heroes?” she asked.
“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.” – Felix Adler, educator
“I have always thought of heroes as motivating me, not as paralyzing me…”
“People with heroes often operate with a self minimization perspective…they feel inferior, or less capable than their hero…it is an infatuation of the hero as being better than they are, due to genetics, wealth, luck, or something else. It is actually a rationalization to keep them safe, and minimize their risk taking in their life.”
“Are you saying having a hero is a bad thing, Ken?”
“It is both bad and good, depending on the value system of the person creating the hero. If it is used by the person to motivate themselves toward their own goals, it’s useful and called, admiration, and is constructive. But, if it used to beat themselves up, and avoid taking the risks they need to achieve their goals, it is called, infatuation, and is destructive.”
“So, are you suggesting making Barbara one of my heroes has been destructive to me, when I thought it was constructive?”
“What do you think Jenny?” I asked her.
“I have always thought of heroes as motivating me, not as paralyzing me… which would make them…non-motivators, wouldn’t it?” she asked following her train of thought to the very end of its’ track.
Then she added, “I had thought my hero worship of my older sister spurred me on in my own career…but as I think about it, I may have used her as a reason, not to pursue some goals, I have had for a long time.”
“ I never thought of it that way before.”
“Like what, Jenny?” I asked.
“Well…she has a couple of degrees, and I always wanted to go to university to study nursing…but, I hesitated, because I thought I wouldn’t do as well as she did.”
“What did you do instead?”
“I took a job in hospitality because it offered training while you worked…so I avoided the academic route…too risky!” she said half smiling, with a regret in her voice.
“But, Jenny, there are no mistakes in your life. One proof is you got to be here, today. So, how was getting on the job training, instead of going to university, the wisest thing to do for you, at that time in your life?”
“I don’t know, Ken. I never thought of it that way before.” she said, somewhat confused by my question.
“So, you have your own success…based on your values…”
“Jenny, success is very personal, and can really only be determined by each individual. If that is true, then you’ve been seeing Barbara’s success…but, do you see your own success?”
“Well, I guess so! I mean I have a stable relationship with Bart and we’re close to our son. I like my work, and feel respected by the people there. There seems to be opportunities for me to move up through the organization, and that pleases me, too. I have excellent health, and three close friends I have known for years.”
“So, you have your own success…based on your values…is that fair to say, Jenny?”
“Yes, that’s true! It’s just that Barbara’s success seems better at times…maybe more obvious to others, perhaps?” she said, hesitantly.
“Well, let’s check it out. Would you trade your form of success for Barbara’s form of success?”
Jenny looked at me like this was a dumb question…which it was, really! She then said, “Of course not, Ken! I appreciate my life as it is…I don’t want Barbara’s.”
“Why not, Jenny?”
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan, musician
“…her success doesn’t reflect your values, it reflects her values…”
“Ken, Barbara leads a very ‘rushed’ life with long work hours, little family time, and huge stress…she even struggles to respond to my phone calls about our parents.”
“Are you saying her success has a downside, a cost, a disadvantage…a painful part as well?”
“Yes…yes it does!” she replied, with an insightful look in her eye.
“So, can you see Jenny, you wouldn’t trade your success for her form of success because her success doesn’t reflect your values, it reflects her values, which are different than yours…even though you’re sisters…raised in the same family…by the same parents.”
Jenny said, “I never thought of it like that before. So, it’s OK we successful in different ways…and the forms of our success simply reflect our values. I like that…it makes sense, and allows me to be OK with my form of success, eh?”
“…if you put anyone on a pedestal, you put yourself in a pit, below them…”
“Exactly, there are, at least, two ways heroes can handicap our success. The first way is they imply we are less than them, which isn’t true because we are born with equal potential. That’s demonstrated every day with IQ tests. One of the many limitations of IQ tests is you cannot measure human potential, or imagination.”
“So, if you put anyone on a pedestal, you put yourself in a pit, below them…is that the idea, Ken?”
“That’s it Jenny! The second way is creating a hero of someone else can slow down your own evolution by sabotaging your self motivation to learn, what you need for your future. If a golfer expects the same skill level as Tiger Woods, without the same dedication and practice, that golfer soon avoids the golf course.”
“Are you saying, my values are for me, and Barbara’s values are for her. And, since they are different, there is no need to compare our different forms of success…just appreciate my own, and her’s as well.
“You’re a quick study, Jenny! That’s it exactly! With that level of awareness you appreciate yourself, and Barbara! Now, you have replaced your infatuation with her, with admiration for her…which doesn’t demean you, or her!” I added.
“I like that, Ken! It allows me to be me, and Barbara to be who she is, too!”
“Now, you’re talking admiration, not infatuation! Congratulations, Jenny!”
“Thank you, Ken!”
“A hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown future we all face, with appreciation.” – King Ayles, writer
Until Next time…
Here’s your chance to check out your heroes! Are you into infatuation or admiration? If its admiration then you can appreciate them for helping you to motivate yourself towards your future. But, if it’s infatuation, it’s time to notice what you are avoiding you need to do for your future, and then, go do it. Then, you can thank your hero for that learning, and get on with your life.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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