By Jimmy Warden
Everyone loves a good hero story. A person who overcomes challenges, triumphs over evil, and solves the problems of the community, of which they are also a part. A hero provides us a person to look up to. A role model, if you will, or perhaps an ideal figure. Someone to be admired, whom we can strive to be like. We can find them in movies, books, tv series, on tv playing sports, and even on social media. The interesting part about these hero stories is that we forget we can write our own hero stories with each day of our lives. That is why we should strive to be our own heroes.
Amidst our existential angst, we can get caught up in the mundane activities that come with our everyday lives. We begrudgingly wake up and rush to the coffee pot as a way to perhaps prepare us for the day’s terrors that most of us call our jobs. We wish there was more that we could do with our lives, but are unsure of how to navigate that process, so we settle for its current state, and don’t give much more thought than that. We try to escape our life’s purpose by numbing ourselves with drugs, alcohol, social and news media, television, or poor nutrition because we feel there is nothing else to contribute aside from what we are already doing. With this approach, our hero story quickly comes to an end.
Think about that narrative for a moment: waking up and dreading the day. Is that something a hero would do? In most cases, probably not. In most cases, that hero is willfully getting up and thinking about how best to tackle the day’s inevitable challenges. Instead of admitting defeat before the battle has begun, they are strategizing about how they can make the most of their opportunities, regardless of how the opportunities present themselves.
Each day, we are presented with choices to make in different areas of our lives. We often do “what we’ve always done” without much consideration for how our lives could be different if we behaved differently. Different actions lead to different outcomes. Therefore, if we’re not enjoying the current life we’re living, we are not making the choices that are best for us. Instead of doing what we’ve always done, we could try some different things to produce different outcomes. Perhaps, those choices will make us feel triumphant, like a hero.
It’s very easy to get caught in the blender of nihilism and think our lives will never change, but that outlook got us caught there in the first place. If we want to feel more heroic, it starts with taking steps towards changing ourselves. We hardly have any clue about how much better things could eventually become because we’re often too afraid to take the first step. The hero, however, will carefully adventure into the unknown, knowing that the potential of bringing something greater into existence is lurking on the other side of the fear and paralysis of trying something new. It’s easy for us to stop once we experience the power of the potential, especially if we are not ready for it. However, it is important to note, that by stepping into this potential, we begin to create a more updated version of ourselves, and this only happens by changing our course of action. Not only are we better on the individual level, but our improvements will also better our families, and the communities we serve because we’ll be able to take on more responsibilities for ourselves and others.
That’s another interesting idea that is captured by the hero. Not only are they doing the right thing because of their high character and moral compass, but they understand that everything they do is bigger than themselves. This is because there is always an audience watching. There are people that are counting on them. Children and adults are looking up to them. Looking to them for guidance on how to act in the world. Asking for their wisdom about how they became who they currently are. The same could be said for each and every one of us. Whether we’re the CEO of our own business, a politician, a scientist, a law enforcer, a health care worker, a carpenter, a therapist, a writer, an educator, a coach, a student, an athlete, a parent, a friend, or anything in between, there is someone, somewhere, looking up to us for guidance. Heck, we are often looking to ourselves for guidance, too! Asking ourselves questions like, “what should I do?” or “why did I do that?” or “why do I keep making that mistake?”, just to name a few. The true hero embraces this and does their best to serve others by being the best version of themselves. In order for us to change and become the hero we desire, we need to let part of ourselves die so we can transcend it into something greater.
The last sentence might seem a bit extreme, but there is a lot of truth in its message. For example, there are parts of us that we’ve created through the habits we’ve built. Some of these might include, but are not limited to, the coffee drinker when tired, the social media scroller when bored, the prosecutor of other people’s ideas when someone disagrees with one of our precious ideas. If these are parts of ourselves that we are hoping to change, we need to let these habits die, and never resurface. This will make way for the changes we want to make. Maybe we’ll try for a greater night sleep or a shallow afternoon nap if our schedules permit. Maybe we’ll pick up a book or go for a walk when we’re bored. Maybe we’ll listen to understand that person we disagree with. In order to make those changes, we need to change our actions. This is how we let parts of us die, which allow us to rebirth new parts, and live those parts out in our existence. It is through this process that we can eventually realize what our potential could be.
A lot of our existential angst comes from the fact we haven’t tapped into our full potential. We haven’t tapped into our full potential because it requires a lot of change in our thinking and our behaviors, which are two aspects of ourselves that are extremely difficult to change. Not only do changes need to be made in those parts of our lives, but there also needs to be some forms of sacrifice that need to be made in order to make those changes. The phone addict should try to pick up a new habit: put the phone down to be more present around people or being reading or writing. The caffeine addict should try to decrease their amount of dependency on caffeine over time, drink more water, or take a short nap if their schedule permits. The ideologist should try to enter conversations with the intent to understand more about the views of the people they converse with. These all involve sacrificing previous parts of ourselves, and previous ways we’ve spent our time, in favor of new practices. It is often through the practice of stopping things that we know we shouldn’t do that we start to feel more triumphant like a hero would.
There is a voice in all of us, Socrates used to call it his daemon, but we often refer to nowadays as our conscience. This is a voice that often warns us about mistakes. We often choose not to listen to our conscience when it comes to decisions we feel are just about us. However, a true hero tries to listen to their conscience because our conscience is almost never wrong. This voice often tells us we should stop scrolling through our phones and do something more meaningful. This voice often tells us we should drink less caffeine when we reach for that additional cup. This voice often tells us we should try to listen more instead of impatiently waiting our turn to speak. This is a place where we can start figuring out what our potential could be because it gives us some insight about what our lives could be, from a moment to moment basis. In order to listen to it, we must be courageous, and step into that unknown place, in space and time, also known as potential.
Potential is scary because it is unknown. There is often an unconscious – and in many cases conscious – fear of our potential. Fear of the sacrifices we’ll need to make, fear that we’ll be physically and emotionally challenged, or a fear that things will stay the same despite the fact we’re willingly moving forward in the face of those fears. Heroes do their best not to suppress or overcome their fears, but rather step into them. Literally. They voluntarily face their fears, and as a result, they become stronger. Despite the presence of our fear, we must step into our fears to progress towards what we could be and live out our hero’s journey if we want to make true changes.
So what are we waiting for? Our journey awaits.