When Is It Time to Stop Wanting to Be Your Hero?
Many of my students have heroes and they want to be just like them. I don’t blame them for that, because that’s what I used to want. At some point, however, something changed about my relationship to the people I admire and emulate.
This does not mean that I no longer love them and what they do. It simply means I don’t want to be them anymore. It’s a new way of thinking about my own growth process.
When I was younger, it was very important to have heroes. They were so far above me that they lit the way, like a beacon from a far mountaintop. At that stage, as far away from them as I was, I needed to know which direction to go.
I will be a rock star. I will be a great writer. I will be part of the big conversation.
I spent many, many years working to improve myself as a musician, as a writer, as a collector of the kind of information with which I want to be fluent. I meant to get as close to my heroes as possible. Maybe I could meet them someday and we’d have this great conversation.
If I hadn’t wanted to be those people, I might not have improved myself. What would my motivation have been, given how hard you have to work just to even get into the stadium, much less the game? It’s so much easier to simply enjoy someone else’s work and daydream about glory.
Many years later, I have attained many of the skills my heroes have. Given the right circumstances, I could conceivably do some of the things they do. But now that I’m that close to them, it doesn’t make sense to worship them anymore.
It’s obvious to me that I could never duplicate their precise talents. It goes beyond what they can do, and gets into who they are as people. Take Leonard Bernstein, for example, whom I have always admired for his phenomenal success in so many arenas.
Could I really ever hope to be the next Bernstein? The kick of it is: even if I could write like Bernstein, conduct like Bernstein, and speak like Bernstein, I wouldn’t end up with his life. At best I would be known as “the world’s best Bernstein impersonator.”
Duplicating a great talent at this point would be a step away from me exploring who I am with the talent I have. At this stage in my life, I no longer need to prove that I can become what someone else became. What I need is to manifest my abilities as genuinely and effectively as I can, in the way that only I can do it.
I will always have my heroes to use as examples when I get discouraged or disoriented, and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to make friends with one or two before I die. But I have no interest in being anyone but me at this point. As hard as that is, it’s easier than trying to be someone else.
Do you feel this way about your heroes? Did you ever want to be one of them, or do you still desire this? Do you think it makes sense to give up that quest?