There’s an old saying that “you should never meet your heroes”, because you’re sure to be disappointed. Nearly everyone has a story of meeting someone that they admired, only to be let down by the reality of the person. But there’s a certain freedom and optimism that comes from learning that your hero isn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly altruistic person with the perfect life. There’s encouragement in knowing that this person that you admired and respected is full of warts and issues and fears and struggles. The fact that the world is full of flawed heroes lets us know that there’s hope for us, that we, too, can be a hero.
We’re familiar with our warts. We’re short or fat or ugly, or maybe even all three. Our IQ is average, our job is average, and our income is average. Our best days physically are behind us. And we deal with anxiety and depression on a regular basis, sometimes to the point that we feel like we simply cannot deal with life. How are we ever going be anyone or do anything that matters?
Flawed Heroes, not Superheroes
Here’s the truth: there are no superheroes, only heroes. Because that’s true, it means there are no heroes without flaws. Superman doesn’t exist in reality. Batman is the best we can hope for. A real man who tries to overcome his fears to accomplish something meaningful. He may be a flawed hero, but he’s a hero nonetheless.
The fact our heroes are flawed should be more evident now than ever before. Every day we see a new story about a “hero” whose flaws have been exposed. We see a picture of a beautiful celebrity or fitness model without makeup or on a beach with a less than perfect body. Our favorite actors commit suicide because they’re woefully unhappy or struggling with depression, drug abuse, or both. We learn that our favorite athlete is having family issues. And we cannot escape stories about our favorite politicians being mired by scandals or accusations of wrongdoing.
“Perfection is not a requirement to be a hero.”
All of this should serve to remind us that even our heroes are people. People like us. People that have issues. People that are scared. People that are anxious. People that are depressed. People that are trying to get or stay strong and lean. People that are trying to have good relationships with their wives. People that are trying to figure out how raise happy, well-adjusted children. People that feel clueless about how to do it all at times. And people that fail.
The Elevator Incident
Here’s my example. I feel like I have most of life under control. I have a wonderful wife and kids that are on track. I’m in excellent shape, have good friends, a great career, and am improving as a man all the time. I try to embrace discomfort and overcome it. Yesterday I attended an event for a colleague who is running a political campaign. As I left the event, I got on the elevator with another gentleman who was leaving. When the elevator reached the ground floor, the doors wouldn’t open. We just stood there for 10-15 seconds waiting for the doors to open, but they never did. During that brief time, I felt panic rushing over me. I felt trapped and couldn’t breathe. I could feel myself wanting to go into full freak-out mode.
Fortunately, we just hit the “door open” button and, right on cue, the doors opened right up. We both exited the elevator, and I’m confident the other gentleman had no idea what had gone on inside me during that brief period. I have no idea what would have happened if we’d actually been trapped, but I can say for sure that it would have been an internal hell for me. I have an irrational fear: claustrophobia. And it could probably cripple me in the right circumstances.
Does that make me a weak man? Hardly. Does it make me incapable of helping others find success as strong, capable, connected men? Not a chance. Does it make me flawed? Absolutely, it’s one of many. But that’s okay.
Say it to yourself as many times as you need to in order for it to stick: no one is perfect, everyone is struggling with the same types of things. I don’t care how awesome that guy or gal seems from a distance. If you got to know them, you’d find out that they struggle with many of the same things you do. In fact, if a person seems perfect and to have life entirely figured out, that’s a giveaway that you don’t know them very well. It means you haven’t spent enough time with them to see their flaws or that they haven’t felt comfortable enough around you to let their guard down (which may be a flaw in itself).
Flawed but Improving
That’s not to say that everyone is at the same level. We’re at different places on our journey; some are farther along than you, at least in some areas. Improvement is real; that’s why this site exists. But the ability to improve doesn’t negate the fact that we will struggle and grow and learn for the rest of our lives. We will never reach guru-status, regardless of what other people say about us.
The problem is that most people have a tendency to focus on their flaws more than anything. The supermodel can’t see anything but that one stretch mark. The bodybuilder hates his physique because his calves won’t grow. And even when we don’t focus on our flaws, life seems to provide regular reminders of how flawed we are, just like with me and the elevator yesterday. Perhaps that’s a good thing; it keeps us humble. But we can’t let it keep us from being the men we’re meant to be. If you’re too focused on your flaws, you think of yourself as incapable, perhaps even unlovable. You begin to limit what you think you can achieve. Don’t do it.
The good news is that perfection is not a requirement to be a hero. You don’t have to have every aspect of life figured out and on lock-down in order to provide tremendous value to others. So own your flaws. Don’t pretend like they don’t exist, but don’t treat them like things that disqualify you from greatness. Own them, acknowledge them, and fight them, knowing that every great man alive is doing the same thing. This is the man’s life.
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