This post has been fermenting with me for several months. Thinking about and writing “Living Heroically” (part 1) several months ago had quite an impact on me, but the essay didn’t resonate with many who read it. Re-reading it, I understand why – as I have a tendency to do, I got a bit lost in the weeds.
This is important to me, so I’ll try again. I decided to follow my own advice, and simplify the idea of Living Heroically into it’s essentials (see my essay on “Simplicity”) In observing others whom I admire – four of whom I describe below – I’ve distilled Living Heroically down to three simple (but not easy) rules:
Refuse to be a victim: No excuses. No one to blame. Accept and deal with what is. Take full ownership and responsibility for who, what, and where we are. Look forward, not backward. Focus on “what is best for me to do now…”
Seek to grow and learn: Keep a “Growth Mindset” Go for it. Get out of our comfort zone and take risks. Be adventurous and imaginative – try new things and always learn. And when things don’t go well, and they often won’t, review rule #1, and then get back to rule #2.
Try to make a positive impact: Seek to leave the world and the people we deal with somehow better, inspired and more “alive” – even when, ESPECIALLY when, that requires some sacrifice.
I distinguish between Living Heroically and Living Well. For me, they are related, but not the same. Maybe one is a subset of the other, or maybe they are two overlapping circles. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter. Clearly, both are important. This essay focuses on Living Heroically.
In my post on personal ethos, I listed 10 values for Living Well. All good, but I now realize that 10 is too many for me to focus on or even remember. Perhaps by focussing on 3 simple rules for Living Heroically, the other parts of Living Well will come more easily.
One of my favorite lines in the prayer “Desiderata” is that, though “… the world is full of trickery, let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere, life is full of heroism.”
Looking around, I am grateful to see that indeed, “life is full of heroism,” and I see many examples of people Living Heroically, according to my simple 3-rule standard. Here are four who inspire me, two from my Rotary Club, two from my own family:
I have praised my friend Chip in a previous post. Chip had been a Division 1 College football player, when shortly after graduation, his car was hit by a drunk driver. In an instant, Chip went from great athlete to quadriplegic. For over 30 years now, Chip has had to deal with a reality that most of us cannot even imagine. And yet he does so with energy, determination, and a positive attitude. I’ve gotten to know Chip, and of course (like all of us) he has tough moments and periods, but he makes a point to keep those mostly to himself and to project and share his enthusiasm for the simple joys in life, for friends and relationships, and for his appreciation for the opportunities he has. He serves through Rotary, inspires young men by coaching Pop-Warner football, and is creating a course on leadership to teach in high school. When I start feeling sorry for myself, I think of Chip, and realize he probably wouldn’t have much sympathy for me. And that realization helps me.
My friend Suzanne has had a number of physical issues which she hasn’t let hold her back. She joined our Executive Leadership Expedition in the Wind River Mountains last year, knowing that it would not be easy for her. But she did it, prevailed, excelled, and inspired me and the others on our expediton. She has broken ground as a woman leader, and as the first woman president of our formerly all-male Rotary club, dealt with the prejudices some men have toward strong women – without succumbing to bitterness or resentment. She has a big bucket-list of things she still wants to do, and rather than dream or talk, she just does them – inviting others to join her, if they want to, if they dare to. No excuses, she just goes for the gusto. And with all of that, she continuously serves her family and friends, and community – in more ways than most of us know.
My son Patrick has struggled and continues to struggle with depression. He keeps fighting it, and after years of suffering, is learning to manage it. My friend and mentor Dan Gallington once told me: “Bob, don’t even begin to think you can understand depression. You can’t.” That has been good advice. But a few times, I have felt for just a day or two, something that seemed akin to what I’ve read about depression. It was insidious and horrible. To keep on keeping on, feeling for weeks and even months like I felt for just a day or two, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, is a heroism that a generally upbeat guy like me struggles to fully appreciate. Patrick asks for no sympathy, is trying to do better with whatever energy he can muster, and helps and serves those he can. He marches to his own drummer, though when depressed, he sometimes struggles to hear the beat. He exhibits a different, but very inspiring version of Living Heroically.
My Dad has been fighting cancer for 25 years. While he shares with us some of the frustrations, debiitations and discomforts that have come with that (and there have been many,) I’ve never had a sense of him feeling sorry for himself. He has dealt with it, shielded most of us from whatever he was dealing with, and carried on. He has continued to embrace life, and just Go For It. He was president of his country club in his 80s (a surprisingly demanding position), and now at 91, is still going to the gym to work out, or playing golf nearly every day. He remains upbeat, full of humor, making light of the natural infirmities of old-age, and still living by his motto: “If you ain’t having fun doing it, you ain’t doing it right!” And that includes growing old with cancer. While my Dad has said, “Growing old ain’t for sissies,” Living Heroically with cancer into our 90s is something else. This poster seems to sum up my Dad’s relationship to his cancer:
These are just four of many examples of Living Heroically that have inspired me. We can and should be inspired by others, but it is up to each of us to motivate ourselves, and perhaps even serve as an inspiration to those around us. I’ve given you my three criteria for Living Heroically – they may not be yours.
As the Stoics said, the only person we truly have the power to change is ourselves. And if we do that in a positive way, if we can Live Heroically by whatever standard(s) we choose for ourselves, we will certainly live better, and contribute more than we would otherwise.
If anyone inspires you to Live more Heroically, I suggest you tell them. And thank them….though it will probably embarrass them. And that’s Ok.
Part of Living Well, is to feel and express appreciation. Living Well is important too.
 I get the term “Growth Mindset” from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. My review of Mindsetcan be read here.
 In Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers, he offers a longer checklist, but demands that we grade ourself on each rule, every day, which can indeed be very effective. My review of Triggerscan be read here. I believe he got the daily checklist idea from Benjamin Franklin.