What does the term hero mean to me? For me, it represents a person I want to emulate. It is a person whose attributes I want to make a part of my life. It is a person whose life I want to study and learn lessons from, so that when I face a situation that he/she faced, I have an idea and an inspiration about what to do. There is generally an entire tribe of heroes that you follow as they inspire you at different ages, situations and fields. And since stories of heroes can directly affect your decisions in life, it is very important to choose your heroes based on who you want to be and the identity that you want to carve out for yourself.
Why choose heroes?
We have aspirations and goals in our lives. But we are never the first to have those. Someone has already been there and done that. And they must have done that in a way that is extremely successful and with a story to tell. A story of trials and tribulations. A story of overcoming obstacles to finally reach the pinnacle. Choosing heroes means embracing their stories and using those stories to script our own. We will inherently start thinking, “What will <put your hero’s name here> do or will have done in this situation?” We’d have someone’s success to model and set our rules and make decisions when we are stuck.
How does one choose heroes?
This is one of those things in life that we automatically figure out and no one particularly has to teach us how to do so. It seems inborn in our nature to look upto people. Children who have been brought up at homes with healthy relationships automatically start looking at parents and elder siblings as heroes. Beyond that, it all depends on which field we like and which person in that field achieves something that resonates with what we ourselves want to do. Hero selection can be completely whimsical. A person who suddenly shoots to limelight with something radical that the world sits up to notice, e.g. Usain Bolt with a thunderous 100 metre sprint to gold. Or it can be someone who has been building up a life full of heroic deeds and has garnered respect all his/her life, e.g. late president of India, Mr APJ Kalam.
Can the hero selection process be manipulated?
The answer to this question is fortunately & unfortunately YES! It is possible for someone with sufficient influence over another person to brainwash the latter to think of an intended person as a hero. This influence may not last, but there is enough footprint about the intended hero for a following to happen at least temporarily. History as a subject in schools has been enough to systematically imprint into young minds the idea of certain heroes for a certain country / locality without sometimes giving those minds the whole intricate story. Television movies, series, documentaries and commercials have enough reach to create a tribe for an intended hero, once again, curating only as much as they want their audience to see.
Is there a way to choose our own heroes without getting influenced?
While getting a completely objective view about a person is virtually impossible in today’s sensational media, there are certain ways to gather information about a person without consuming the fat. It is best to avoid television as a source of a person’s story, since that media is no longer as objective as it used to be. Some channels like NatGeo, Discovery and History are reasonably fact-based. News channels are no longer reliable. Newspapers and magazine articles are going the same way as television.
But here are some sources that are still very objective. The first source is a person’s or a person’s organisation’s official website and RSS feed. Twitter and Facebook have too much noise. Secondly, if the person has authored an auto-biography or a fiction which resembles his/her own life, that source is good too. In fact that is the best way to dive into the person’s brain. It is unlikely that people pretend or write false things when they publish to the world, since they want to share their life’s lessons as it is for others to see.
Is it okay to follow imminent sports persons and movie stars?
Picking a movie star or a sportsperson as a role model is a bit tricky.
Movie stars perform several roles over their life time and some of these roles become cult hits. The one screen persona is a aspiration for many. But the way the brain makes associations, it begins to think of the movie star as that on-screen persona. I would recommend that you disregard all the movie characters played by the star and have a look at the star’s own life. Is he/she still worth following? It’s for you to answer.
The idea of following sports stars is similar. Does the person’s on-field character match what he / she does off it?
Another problem with the above two types of heroes is that their lives are largely sealed shut behind bodyguards and agents. I would prefer heroes who talk directly to people and bare their souls in front of them, discuss their stories, successes and failures. They should be the direct source of their own stories. We do not often see movie stars or sports stars doing this too often.
Some of the heroes I follow and why
Here are some of the persons I look upto as my heroes in no particular order.
- Elon Musk: The creator of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX has taken it upon himself to ‘save this earth’ and humanity. He is a person who just cannot stop at an “I don’t know” for the things that he really cares about. It’s more like “I don’t know yet, but I will learn and I can’t wait to learn”. His hands on, deeply involved leadership and motivation has led his tribe to create wonders that many people openly criticised as not possible, be it online payment, electric cars that are classy and the inevitable commercial space travel which is envisioned to enable people to live on other planets, especially Mars. This is the man for whom even rocket science is ‘not rocket science’!
- Tim Ferriss: Author of compelling titles like the The 4-Hour Work Week, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, voracious language learner, tango champion, wrestling champion, ex-angel investor, blogger, podcaster. Well, you can keep adding tags to him! Tim is a master at a process that he calls ‘deconstruction‘. He meets up with the current masters of any field and watches them do what they do best. He then picks the best of the processes and compresses the learning curve to an insanely low timeframe. He is his own guinea pig for his various scientific research endeavours. He picks a topic such as ‘weight loss’ and leaves no unturned in his research on how to get the best results, e.g. how spending time in ice cold water can boost metabolism! Besides, you should check out his slow carb diet, which is part of his 4-Hour Body book.
- Michael Hyatt: An expert at life design and intentional living, Michael Hyatt is one of the best life coaches out there. His insightful and incisive podcast named “This is your Life” is a clear indication of how good he is at taking control of life through practiced and intentional approach to everyday nitty gritties. His books “Platform” and the latest “Living Forward” are testimony to his success.
- Seth Godin: Seth Godin’s short-blogging approach (500 words or less) makes sure that he posts something every single day and that has built up a wealth of information for any follower to read. Seth is profound and spot-on when he speaks about how to build an entire tribe of followers around your vision for this world (Tribes), how to lay the foundations for a product that stands out (Purple Cow) or frequent posts about focusing on important tasks, rather than tasks that seem necessary.
- Richard Stallman: This is the man who started what is now known as the Open Source initiative in software. He called it Free Software (Free as in free speech) and rallied enough people to form the GNU foundation, which has written a lot of tools which are used on current day Linux. GNU is also responsible for bringing to the court of law, the General Public License or GPL, which mandates that any changes made to an open source software licensed under GPL must also be shared as open source. This has ensured that open source software continues to mature with incremental changes every single day.
- Linus Torvalds: A college project by a young computer engineer went on to take the world of software by storm. What started as a small experimental operating system runs world’s most powerful servers, tiny drones and mobile phones. Linux has profilerated throughout the world, mainly because Linus was ready to open source it and continues to keep it that way and actively participates in Linux’s growth instead of backing away. What started 25 years ago is still his baby!
- Anu Vaidyanathan: Extremely determined and equally smart, Anuradha Vaidyanathan is the first Asian, either male or female, to have completed an ultraman (i.e. 10km swim, 420km bicycle, 84.4km run). That she did it in a sport that is more male-dominated and in a society that is mostly patriarchal speaks volumes about her determination and her fortitude to beat the odds. She was the youngest finisher of that year’s ultraman (Canada) and came 6th overall. She also completed an Ironman (Canada) and several half Ironmans.
Who is the hero I just cannot do without
Priya, my wife. I just could not resist adding this to my list and am delighted to do so. It is our 1st anniversary on 15th April and this post comes just in time for that occasion. I have changed a lot for the better in the one year since our marriage, the biggest change being my transition from employee to entrepreneur, which was mainly Priya’s vision for me and she has been there every step of the way with her constant support and encouragement. Besides, she has done a lot of things that I aspire to do, be it travelling to all the states of India or the completion of 4 half marathons. She has also been open to learning and has picked up several things from me. The one that makes me the happiest is that she uses her bicycle as a real commute vehicle between home and office, instead of just using it as a symbol for environment friendliness. Priya, I take a bow.