“Your heroes will fail you. They will cheat, or fuck up, or get old, or die. Only you will be with you until the end.”
That’s not some famous quote from a dead general, college football coach or Hollywood movie. That’s how my friend, Derek, expressed his anger and frustration and feelings of betrayal when he found out Lance Armstrong is a blood-doping cheater. Personally, I wasn’t surprised. I never liked the dude. He always seemed like a weasel. And I didn’t dig how he ditched his wife and kids to shack up with Sheryl Crow. What’s up with that, Lance? Your wife nurses you through cancer, then takes cares of the kids while you pedal over the Pyrenees, and soon as folks know your name… you ditch her? That told me all I needed to know about Mr. Armstrong.
But my friend, Derek, didn’t stop loving Lance until Oprah Winfrey did her thing. When America’s #1 Shoulder-to-Cry-On provided the cyclist a place to confess, or more like a place for him to kinda open up and kinda admit how he hung bags of blood from hotel walls so he could cheat to win, that’s when all the rumors became fact. And that’s when another hero fell.
Until then, my friend didn’t want to believe Lance cheated. He watched all 7 of Lance’s Tour de France victories. He idolized the dude. It was like he was a ten-year old boy and Lance was his hero. He never let me talk shit about Lance. Then, when my friend found out Lance was a cheater, it kinda crushed him. He was so pissed at Lance he decided to quit having any heroes. Derek decided to be his own hero.
The reason our heroes fail us is because they’re human. We put them on a pedestal. But really they’re no better or worse than any of us. All the terrible things you think, the insecurities you have, the weird things you do to please your ego, the fears that drive you, the obsessions you hate to admit, our heroes share all those same human tendencies. Heroes fail us because they’re just like us. And if they’re just like us, then… fuck ‘em! We don’t need ‘em. We can be our own heroes!
The whole thing started as a joke. I’d text Derek about finding an epic parking space. And he’d respond, “Way to be your own hero.” If one of us made it across town in record time in the middle of rush hour, that would qualify as something just shy of the will of the gods. If you picked an awesome restaurant for lunch- you were totally being your own hero. Mostly, it was another joke to riff on when we texted. But underneath it all, Derek noticed it was more than just a fun thing to say.
He figured out it was a way to see the boring, mundane, day-to-day small stuff as hugely important. We celebrated the minutiae of life, the things you usually ignore or perform with rote efficiency. The joke of acknowledging heroically completed paperwork and collating, made office drudgery way more fun. It was like you were slaying the paperwork instead of slowly dying underneath the crushing weight of its monotony. We elevated things like making a damn good cup of coffee into something worthy of story. By being our own heroes we made every little moment pregnant with the potential of greatness. Eventually, Derek turned Be Your Own Hero into his personal mantra.
This last month on Facebook, Derek started a Be Your Own Hero campaign. To kick it off, he spread the word with #BYOH Week. It was a weeklong holiday celebrating everyday heroics. It was kinda like Passover but with more hashtags and less matzo balls. However, just like Passover, it celebrates liberation and the achievement of amazing feats through determination and will.
For #BYOH Week, people posted about not hitting any red lights on their commute. A chef posted about going the whole day without cutting herself with a knife. A yoga teacher posted about keeping herself calm so she didn’t slap a pain-in-the-ass student who was pushing her last buttons. Sometimes, it was a silly song or a video celebrating the idea of everyday heroics. Like when someone posted the theme-song from the super-lame ‘80s tv show “The Greatest American Hero.” The idea was to celebrate anything and everything that brought heroics down to the level of what could be achieved by an average person on a daily basis. And at the same time it transformed any mundane moment into something grand and epic.
Obviously, #BYOH isn’t serious. Yet, beneath the all the joking and laughs, it drove right to the heart of a crisis of our culture. It’s hard to find a hero these days. Of course, we still have real heroes like the folks who are brave enough to go into emergency situations, battlefields, crisis zones… and other newly dangerous places like an American classroom. But our old heroes like athletes, cultural leaders, brand-name superstars and celebrities, most of them don’t deserve the attention of their personal assistants. Or as Derek put it, “We have too many idols and most of them aren’t worth shit anyway.”
When I asked him to sum up why he started #BYOH Week, Derek told me, “BYOH is about doing things to impress yourself and being impressed by the things you do. Appreciating the bite-sized portions of your own heroism. And gaining the gumption to achieve great feats.”
I know, he sounds like the sort of self-help guru you find on late-night television selling his “personal success program.” But in his case, Derek’s sales pitch for being your own hero is both sarcastic and childishly earnest. He offers a way for you to play with all the day-to-day bullshit you deal with as an adult. And he’s found a fun way to elevate trivial things like office politics and reframe them in the realm of the heroic.
The weird thing was, as we celebrated #BYOH Week, some of us noticed it subtly, subconsciously, reinforces your self-worth. If you take a moment to nod your head at the awesome new shoes you just scored on sale, you’re also taking a moment to pay attention to you. You’re stoking yourself on some self-love, even if it’s all just a joke. The effect is the same for your subconscious. All it knows is you rewarded yourself for doing a good job. It’s another drop in the bucket of your happiness.
When I asked Derek what are the benefits of being your own hero, he said in his mock-serious tone, “Small steps lead to great feats.” It’s so cheesy, but so true.
Like Forrest Gump, he boiled down ancient wisdom and fit it on a bumper-sticker. The Tao Te Ching informs us, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Obviously, the ancient Chinese didn’t measure in miles, but you get the idea. Any mountain climber worth his crampons will tell you how true it is. And like Sir Edmund Hillary everyone reaches personal greatness step-by-step. With each little effort, you climb further up your personal Mount Everest. Why not make each step more fun?
Maybe, instead of imitating corporations and embracing terms like “personal branding,” we should all spend a week each year imitating Hercules and Joan of Arc.
Maybe you should be your own hero.
And proudly share it with the world.