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The 4 Sneaky Traps of Having Heroes


The 4 Sneaky Traps of Having Heroes
Image by jmaximo (license).

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Many people have heroes in their lives. Heroes can be helpful to get inspiration and they can provide you with valuable information if they have already walked the path you are on.

But there are also a few downsides with having heroes. Or at least with putting them on too high of a pedestal. Something I think is pretty common and can be helpful at first. But, as you move forward it can become an obstacle for you.

Here are four reasons to be careful with your heroes. 

1. They might not live up to your image of them.

It can be very hard to really see a person. This is probably especially true with someone you hold up as a hero. But people aren’t an idealized images in your head. No one is Superman or Wonder Woman.

This can lead to disappointment. You may feel betrayed. Your unreal expectations might damage that relationship, no matter what kind of relationship it is. You may even abandon people when they don’t act as you wanted them to. When they don’t live to the image in your head.

I think it’s important to remember that we are all human and prone to make mistakes. Holding people to unreasonable standards will only create more unnecessary conflicts in your world and negativity within you.

2. It can make you feel like you are not worthy.

When you start to make myths out of people – even though they may have produced extraordinary results – you run the risk of becoming disconnected from them. You can start to feel like you could never achieve similar things that they did because they are so very different.

You won’t feel worthy to do so. And so you’ll hinder or self-sabotage to keep yourself in line with your own expectations and self-image. Understanding that everyone is human can open you up to your own potential.

3. It can make it harder to connect to people.

When you have some heroes you are likely to think more about the opposite too. And place people into neat and tidy folders. You may create villain-like images of people in your world.

But in truth, things can be kinda messy. Putting someone on a pedestal or making a villain out of them create barriers in your head and life. It may give you a sense of being right. But it can hold you back from positive experiences too.

Openness is more fun than judgement.

4. You may develop tunnel vision.

If you get too attached to one hero, you may believe all s/he says. Everyone has flaws and blindspots though. What your hero tells you might not be the best fit for you, even though it may be for him/her. So take inspiration and knowledge from many sources and people. Go out and experiment and see what you like.

I’m not saying that any of this is easy. But to keep these pointers in mind, remembering to relax and that people are mostly just people can be very useful.

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  • Avani-Mehta September 26, 2008, 6:36 pm

    We all fall into this trap once when we idolize our parents in childhood. Of course, a lot of us are lucky enough to stick through the tough period and find the most amazing lifelong friends in them.

  • Dereck Coatney September 26, 2008, 7:10 pm

    This is a good article. I often put it in the perspective of an “idol.” While I think all the points you made are extremely good, the first two are the best. It’s like two sides of a coin: how we might live up to an idol, or a hero, and how they might live up to us.

    These two perspectives are what define what could become the ultimate differences we have with them, and in the end, it’s what might make us see how our heroes fail us.

    In other words, it’s exactly as the title of your post suggest, these are the biggest traps from having heroes.

  • Sid Savara September 26, 2008, 7:19 pm

    Just like tunnel vision, I remember reading once (can’t for the life of me recall where I got the reference) that having someone we are trying to emulate (a hero) also limits us – we mentally put our own barrier on what is possible.

    One example is the 4 minute mile. Everybody thought it was an impossible barrier, and tried to be as fast as the fastest times at that time, over 4 minutes. Then, when one person ran a mile in under 4 minutes, a flurry of other runners suddenly broke it as well.

    I don’t know for certain if it was physical or mental, but in that specific case, I think it was probably that having their “hero” put a mental wall up in their minds, that 4 minute miles were impossible, because nobody else had done it – and that barrier only came down one day when somebody actually did run it that fast.

  • Jenny Mannion September 26, 2008, 7:41 pm

    Hi, Timely post as I am running a group writing project right now called Heroes of Healing! I feel you hit good points. As long as you remember Heroes are people too and those who you might find heroic others might not – I think you are safe from the above happening.

    I have MANY heroes in my life that I have learned from and would not be where I am now without their insight. I resonate with many that are inspirational but it does not mean I have to believe EVERYTHING that ANY of them say. We are all separate individuals and that is part of what makes life so incredibly interesting. If you get a few golden nuggets from each Hero — that is priceless!

    Thank you for the post. It might fit in very well with my project as I do want to make people aware that there is not just one Hero for each of us….would love to talk more about it. Gratefully, Jenny

  • Henrik Edberg September 28, 2008, 11:00 am

    Thanks for all the feedback and insights, guys! You really added some excellent points to the article.

  • Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome September 29, 2008, 12:11 pm

    After reading this post, I really tried to think of people I would consider as heroes and I honestly couldn’t come up with any. I have people that I admire and people whose success I aspire to and whose actions inspire me, but heroes? Nope – like Gordon Lightfoot (and Stars on 54) said: “Heroes often fail.”

    Stars on 54: If you could read my mind – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97ZbiemJ1KU

  • Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. October 11, 2008, 1:18 am

    Hi Henrik,

    This is a very important post. It reminds of the pressure I feel when someone tells me I’m their hero.

    I get concerned that when they realize I have flaws and have made many mistakes they’ll lose the enthusiasm for their goals that they think I’ve sparked.

    But more important is that I remember that I can’t walk on water, as I stick to my goals to inspire others.

  • Shann October 14, 2008, 5:05 am

    This post reminds that we all seem most interesting and intriguing from a distance.

    When you get up close and personal we are only human.

    Loving kindness and a sense of humor are my super heroes.

    Shann