I grew up wanting to be the Greatest American Hero. Literally. There was a tv show by that name when I was very young, and he was the character I wanted most to emulate. He was goofy and awkward and I loved that he was so flawed as a super hero. He didn’t have the muscle mass of Batman (neither did I), the acrobatics of Spider Man (I’d be lucky to walk down the hall without tripping), or the good looks of Super Man (I was called a lot of things as a kid, but good-looking was not one of them). But still, he was a hero. And so was the protagonist of most of the books I read and shows and movies I watched as a kid. They were always saving the world. Or at least saving lives (in the E.R., from aliens, or from bombs). So I thought I needed to save the world. Or at least lives. My mother was a nurse, my stepfather was a firefighter, and my father worked for a defense contractor – all “saving lives.”
But what happens when you’re just a creative young person who wants to make movies, or draw or shoot photographs. I did not get the science gene from my parents. I did not excel in, nor enjoy, any science class I ever took (much to the chagrin of my scientist father). It wasn’t my strength. I felt much more at home with creative writing, or acting or writing music. The problem with all of those endeavors is that none of those save lives.
So I did what most people do initially after college – I got a desk job that could not be farther away from saving lives. I was staring at a computer all day. If nobility were based on number of mouse clicks, I would have been a king. But I burnt out. And I hated it. And resented it. So I left.
I went out and started my own business. Now THERE is a fulfilling thing to do! Creating my own life for myself. I started following other people who were doing the same, and lots of them were gathering large followings on social media. They were writing books, and creating hand-made crafts and juicing every day. They wrote blog posts that made people weep and spoke to thousands of people in large theaters.
That’s it. I can do that. I’ll be famous. It’s not saving lives but it’s nearly as fulfilling. It’s impacting lives on a large scale. I could be motivating them. Or helping them create their own businesses. Or saving themselves from their own awful cubicle jobs.
And maybe some of you feel that way too. A LOT of you follow these people on social media, so it’s inevitable. We want to emulate those who we respect most.
But the reality is, none of that will likely happen. I may never save a single life. And I may never write my own book or direct a movie. And that’s ok.
Because the odds are against us. For every Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey, there are a hundred or a thousand people you’ve never heard of on their staff or who have helped them along the way. For every doctor saving lives, there are a hundred staff members in the hospital doing work you’ve never thought about that rarely get recognized outside of their own walls and homes.
But the world needs those people. The ones who support those who change and save lives.
And often, those people have a huge impact on their family and friends just by being themselves. On their neighbors, their co-workers and their community. By being nice, or doing good deeds – opening a door for a mother with 3 children. For feeding their family a delicious meal. For being there and having a conversation with a friend going through a tough time.
It has taken me 40 years, but I’m realizing these things matter – as much as saving lives. Maybe more. And if I can help support the people in my life, just maybe I’ll find it as fulfilling as becoming a superhero.