I used to ponder why we pretty much universally look up to and are drawn to heroes, whether they be historical figures, athletes, or fictional characters who have had the courage to stand up for what they believe in, or worked hard to achieve their lifelong dreams, or protected others even in the face of physical danger, public ridicule and loss of status and position and yet in our daily lives, we rarely see this behaviour happening.
I was a sociology major so I know that we are socialized to understand and adopt the values of society. Obviously there are good practical reasons for this in order to prevent chaos, but it can also inadvertently strip us of our individuality and distance us from our own values which can lead us to making choices that leave us feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.
We’ve all experienced this pressure to conform to what society has deemed successful. As a woman, I used to want to be that perfect marketed version of myself. To have a successful career, family and beautiful home; to be a fantastic wife, daughter, hostess and a wonderful caring and even-tempered friend, all while looking like I just stepped out of the pages of Woman’s Health and Vogue. I strived to be all of these things, even when I knew that being her at times was completely exhausting and unnatural for me and made me unhappy. I actually used to have to take breaks and spend time alone because I felt it was the only time I could truly be myself. I needed to restore myself enough so I could get back out there to be who I needed to be or achieve whatever goal I had to achieve in order to be “successful”.
How many of us are striving to achieve someone else’s version of happiness? To have the right house, car, fitness, clothes, love, marriage, 2.5 kids, vacation, career, friends, retirement or something else. We either end up feeling that we are constantly falling short or feeling completely exhausted and stressed the entire time.
I realize now that we look up to heroes not only because we admire what they do, but because it sparks that part of us that wishes we could do the same . . . stand up for what we believe in. Whether it be as grand as standing up for someone’s rights, taking the lower paying job that you love which allows you to spend more time with the people you care about, or something as simple as walking away from a water cooler conversation where people are gossiping about one of your co-workers.
I believe that when we truly take the time to learn what we value and reconnect with that part of us, we can find peace, happiness, support and fulfillment. The interesting thing is we will still be “successful” to all outward appearances but this version will also be authentic to us. If I look back on my life, I feel like the message society was repeatedly sending me was that I was not okay and that I was constantly falling short. What if I actually was okay all along? What if I am better than okay? What if you are too? What would be different for us? This is what I want to challenge you with.
I realize now that we look up to heroes because it triggers the hero in each of us. Instead of looking up to heroes, my hope is to actualize the hero in me and help inspire others to do the same.