Be the Hero of Your Story

Posted on May 18, 2010


Hercules fighting Achelous metamorphosed into a snake

– photo by wallyg via

Today Josh Hanagarne, the World’s Strongest Librarian, wrote about Hercules and what his modern Labors might look like.

That got me to thinking about heroes.  Heroes are sometimes born for the work (Hercules couldn’t help it as the son of Zeus), sometimes they choose the hero’s quest (Theseus choosing to face the Minotaur, Spiderman deciding to use his powers for good) and sometimes they’re chosen (think Harry Potter, who was ‘marked’ by his enemy as a baby or the apostles of Jesus Christ or the knights of King Arthur).  Here’s the thing: We all have opportunities to choose the hero’s path. Anyone ever hear a call for volunteers?  Did you heed it – or turn away?  Or were you wrestled into the task?  Did you ever have to choose between a ‘safe’ job and a ‘risky’ one?  How about the choice of sticking with what you know and you’re good at – versus trying something new that speaks to your heart?

Sometimes when the call comes, you feel that clenching, curling, sick feeling, and the task just seems like too much to handle. That’s Fear talking and that’s what Seth Godin calls the Lizard Brain, the prehistoric animalistic part of your brain that helps you run away from danger and towards the path of safety.  Now fear is a good thing when you’re running away from hungry dinosaurs.  But fear can also be a good thing when you’re trying to pursue your calling.  Because when you feel the Fear – and proceed in spite of it – you develop a little thing called Courage.  And the more times you give Courage a workout, the stronger it becomes.

Remember – all heroes must struggle. The Heroic Quest requires struggle, obstacles, and heartbreak – otherwise, how would we know the Heroes from everyone else?

The secret is that the Hero persists. Remember the Cowardly Lion?

So – the next time you feel that clenching, curling, sick feeling, the one that makes you want to run away, the one that makes you think, “NO WAY!” here’s what you do:

  • Ask yourself, “Is this challenge my quest – or will it help fulfill my quest?”
  • If yes, then ask yourself, “Why not?  What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Then DO IT.

What’s your Hero’s Story?  What’s the scariest thing you’ve done?  Were you glad that you did it?

One of the scariest things I ever did was whitewater raft down the Gauley River during one of the dam release dates.  The Gauley River during a dam release presents Class V rapids and provides one of the best – and scariest – whitewater rafting experiences in the world.  We did it the safest way possible – experienced rafting company, big rafts, all the safety gear, but it still got my heart going – and we ended up getting dumped in the river.  One of the funnest things I’ve ever done.   And if you’re feeling in a rut, there’s nothing like exercising a little courage to make you appreciate the little things – like peanut butter sandwiches and home made muffins with apple butter.  Sleeping in a smelly tent with unwashed companions can’t get you down after an experience like that – because YOU’RE ALIVE!

One of the little scary things I’ve done recently is try new recipes.  I’ve been trying new recipes for a while now – trying to escape the rut of the same 5 dishes recycled over and over again.  The risk: serving an abomination that everyone hates for dinner.  The reality: I try things that contain ingredients I’m familiar with or steps I’ve taken before.  I’m not taking a big risk, just a little tiny risk every time I try a new recipe.  I fail from time to time.  But every time I succeed (measured by picky kids scarfing down their food), I feel a little more ready to try something even a little bit more risky than before.  Tiny, tiny risks that, in a year or more, may add up to my using a blow torch to make creme brulee or flipping a made-from-scratch pizza over my head.  🙂

Try it. A beginner to this process?  Do what weight lifters do when they’re getting started: lots of repetitions with little weights.  In other words, exercise courage in small things whenever you can to build your courage muscles for big things.  Try a different route to work.  Cook a new dish.  Let go of the bike handles for one second.  Give someone a heartfelt compliment.  Say “I made a mistake.”  Do this enough times and taking a risk to follow your calling will seem . . . manageable.

Would love to hear your Courage stories.  Please share in the comments!


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p.s. – And for those who still have questions about their Quest – the Magical Quest-o-Meter is open for business 🙂

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