I love listening to kids talk about what influence they want to have on the world. Unconstrained by reality, they are not afraid to dream big and reach beyond.
When these children share their aspirations, they are voicing their inner hero – the champion that we all seek within ourselves.
And when we’re children, that hero self lies close to the surface. We openly spoke of our grand dreams and plans without a hint of embarrassment. During childhood play, we embodied roles that showcased our hero selves.
And then at some point around middle school, the doubt starts to drift in, carried in on the currents of our ever-expanding awareness. The yearning of the hero suddenly seems silly. Impractical and out of reach.
And so we begin to push away our hero self, packing away the lofty goals along with the capes and masks of our youth.
But the voice of the hero isn’t silenced, only suppressed. And even when we’re not aware, we’re listening to its pleas.
I read an interview recently of a man who, by most people’s standards, had a successful life. He was married with a child, worked as a teacher and had a home. But he spoke about his dissatisfaction with that life because it fell far short of the hero dreams he incubated as a child.
That malaise eventually translated into a type of gambling addition. While placing and managing his bets, he felt powerful and in control. He was drawn to the potential of winning big and in doing so, altering his family’s life for the better. Even though the lurid reality had him furtively tapping away on his phone while hiding in the bathroom, he saw it as a sacrifice for the greater good.
Of course, it all came crashing down. He lost too much money to continue the playacting that he would come out on top. The potential losses of his family, his home and his job became too big to ignore.
And he had to face the reality that he wasn’t finding his inner hero, he was faking it.
This man later went on to write a book about his experience (Which I would share if I could remember his name or the title!) and summoned the courage to tell his wife the truth about his hidden compulsions. My guess is that now that earlier restlessness has been somewhat quieted. Because now he’s found his inner hero and has authentically achieved some of that influence he yearned for as a child.
The enthusiasm for heroes is ingrained in us. From Achilles in the Iliad to the latest Wonder Woman (even extending to the real-life Gal Gadot), we seek and aspire to be champions.
This drive can be constructive and encouraging when it is accepted that struggle and failure are part of training of hero.
But when, instead, we feel ashamed for not achieving some mythical status and maybe we attempt to shortcut the process, we end up even further away from our hero voice.
Your inner hero isn’t afraid of doing the hard work. Failure is not seen as an endpoint; it is a turning point. Your hero wants to heard, yes. But even more, your hero wants you to be powerful in your life. To vanquish your own demons. And to be true to yourself.
In contrast, the faked hero may look good to the outside, strong and important. Yet the feelings on the inside do not align with the appearance. And that discord between who we want to be and who we are is a breeding ground for dishonor and discontent.
Take a moment and reflect on what your inner hero whispered to you as a child. That voice spoke of your potential, unsullied by the doubts of the world and unconcerned with the idea of taking risks. Let go of the belief (and any accompanying shame) that you should already embody that hero persona. And instead, see yourself as in training. Taking the steps and getting closer to your idealized self.
And don’t worry so much about looking the part. Forget faking your hero, it’s time to go back and find your hero.