Last week, one of my clients told me that I was their hero for the way I had handled the string of medical challenges which have come my way in recent years.
I thanked them for their well-meaning compliment, but overall the whole thing made me uncomfortable. I have never set out to be anyone’s hero but my own and, yes, I did just write that.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am proud of who I am and what I have achieved in my life in many different areas. If I am not proud of me, then how can I expect anyone else to similarly believe in what I stand for?
That said, my health journey is only part of what makes me, me.
I am not looking for anyone else’s validation or recognition to boost my self-esteem or sense of identity. That confidence comes from within me and is not based on anyone else’s opinion. The feelings of being true to myself and following my own path are all that I need.
There are certainly times in my life where I would have felt embarrassed to be as open and ‘out there’ as I now am about my mental and physical challenges, but as I have got older I have come to realise that it is as much my struggles and not just my victories which make me who I am.
That said, I in no way consider myself to be a hero.
I looked up hero in the dictionary, and learned it is ‘a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.’
I am not sure that I have very many noble qualities (!!!), but I have certainly had to exercise my courage in recent years. The health challenges have come thick and fast, but they have predominantly added to who I am and not taken things away.
Equally, I am not convinced that I can claim many outstanding achievements. Nothing about me makes me any more exceptional than anyone else.
I do not deserve to be elevated to a position of superiority in any aspect of life. I have my flaws, and no desire to sit on a pedestal.
I may be a little more prepared than most to test my boundaries, both physical and mental, but that is because I see action as the key to my happiness.
My goal is not to let life’s obstacles define me, but rather to live a life without regret or sadness for the chances which I didn’t take when I could have.
So how do I define a hero?
I have spent some time thinking about my own definition of a hero and decided upon ‘a person who deliberately puts themselves in harms way, when someone else is the benefactor.’
I think of a person entering a burning building to save the occupants, or someone who vicariously decides to be a living unrelated kidney donor. These are people with everything to lose and little to gain. In my mind, that is hero and someone who deserves to be celebrated.
I may be stoic and resilient in the face of my adversity, but I in no way fit that heroic description. I didn’t volunteer for any of the challenges which I have faced, and they rather came my way as an act of fate or destiny.
I have no interest in wishing that my life was different; or thinking about a life where I hadn’t been born with congenital heart defects, had my stroke or then spent months of last year dealing with the consequences of endocarditis.
Instead I choose to view those so-called struggles in a positive way.
To dwell on the negative aspects or to feel sorry for myself cannot make my life any better. I nether expect nor want other people’s sympathy for the obstacles which I have had to overcome.
Hero versus inspiration
The other word which I hear often as it relates to my story is that of an inspiration.
I don’t mind being an inspiration for others, but only if that translates into positive change in their lives. All too often, we read a great book or newspaper article, attend a seminar or listen to a podcast, and for a short while we feel motivated and eager to do something.
But then that enthusiasm wears off and before long we are bumbling along exactly as we were before. That psychological prod is quickly forgotten.
Inspiration in itself is not enough.
I can’t attribute it correctly, but I remember the saying that inspiration is only useful if it leads to perspiration i.e. doing something to make an ongoing and sustainable change.
It is an honour for me to be somebodies’ inspiration, but I can only accept that accolade in certain areas and not as an overall picture.
I am as flawed and unbalanced as the rest of you.
Do not imagine for one minute that I am an exceptional individual, or that I have an unusual ability to achieve my goals. I may have developed specific skills in certain areas such as mindset and coaching, but I promise that has been down to hard work and not a natural gift.
It is important to recognise that we are all made up of strengths and weaknesses in character and ability. It is easy to be harsh and judge ourselves based on the areas where we are not so strong, rather than to instead acknowledge those where we excel.
We look at others and say, ‘I could never do that’, or ‘I am not good enough’. It seems common to allow others leeway, and yet place unrealistic expectations on ourselves.
At school, we are taught that we need to measure up to a set of standards in a wide variety of areas if we are to be considered a success. We are all supposed to meet a minimum level in everything, and excellence in some subjects at the expense of others is not normally encouraged.
Excellent parenting, along with some luck in my formalised education, has enabled me to shape my life according to my interests rather than to fit in with societal norms and expectations.
I have learned to play to my strengths, rather than force myself into conforming to life which makes me feel unhappy or unfulfilled.
Having established that, it seems easy to accept that there are areas of my life where I may easily be considered a failure. I am a rubbish cook, I have a terrible short-term memory, my house is an untidy mess, I am a divorcee, and I have a business encumbered with an unspeakable amount of debt……I could go on.
I don’t beat myself up about it at all. If things annoy me sufficiently then I do something about them, but my general approach is to go harder in the areas where I think I can excel and to pretty much ignore the rest.
This is what I want for all of you. Stop dwelling on your inadequacies, and instead double down on your strengths. To become your own hero, or to harvest your potential to be an inspiration for others if that is your desire, you need to work hard to become exceptional at your ‘gift’.
Mediocrity is the norm and it is almost unfashionable to want to be great.
Unfortunately, life really is short, and as far as I know you are not getting another chance to come back and try again.
Don’t allow yourself to settle for less than you can be.
If there is one thing which living with a potentially life-threatening health condition has taught me, it is that you must live for today. You are not here to make anybody else happy with your choices, especially if that comes at the expense of your own joy.
If you know deep down that you could do and be some much more, now is the best moment to do something about it.
Let my inspiration lead to your perspiration.
So, no, I have zero desire to be your hero. I want YOU to be your own hero by making the most of this (all too short) life by becoming the most remarkable human being that you can be!