We try to become this “facade” and wonder why we can never measure up.
My dad was my first superhero. In my eyes, he never faltered. He worked hard, and I admired how he poured his “heart and soul” into what he was doing. Never a complaint. Never an emotion. I emulated that “stoic man mythos.” It wasn’t until I became a divorced dad and an entrepreneur that I realized I was chasing an unobtainable ideal and doing so was killing me. I re-examined my view of my father and realized that image wasn’t the truth.
He was a hard worker, but he also had his flaws, I just ignored them. James Loewen, a historian, calls this process “hero-fication.” We dehumanize those we look up to and indoctrinate piety and perfection by erasing all of their flaws, nuances and quirks because they don’t vibe with the heroic ideal. Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, calls this disemboweling “cognitive dissonance.” We try to become this “facade” and wonder why we can never measure up. When we don’t measure up, we find new heroes to idolize, and the addiction cycle perpetuates. Here are the lessons I learned to overcome my hero addiction.
Lone Wolf Fallacy
James Patterson is a prolific writer, having written 114 New York Times best-selling novels in his life and 16 novels last year. For writers like myself, I envied this man and thought that he was superhuman. How could one man do so much writing in one year? The answer is he didn’t. James Patterson is a team of writers overseen by the real James Patterson. We tend to think of those prolific performers as lone wolves. They are as human as you are and to do such amazing things requires a team. Every person on this planet has the same 365 days. The more prolific among us have a team to make their output look exponential in comparison to the rest. Your hero may have a name, but it’s more like a brand name backed by an incredible team.
Anecdotal Awareness: The Devil is in the Details
As we look towards heroes and mentors’ stories, we should be cognizant of the short glimpse we are getting in their lives. Writers omit details for brevity or to keep alignment with the intention of the article or book. It’s not all intentional as our memories are not reliable records of prior events. Also, part of the dynamic here is that the stories are getting framed. What is the writer’s message they are trying to convey while portraying the facts? We just need to remember to do our due diligence and dig deeper. If we are going to attempt to model others, we better make sure we have the right blueprints to model.
As I look back to my view of my dad, I celebrated an awful trait, his stoic nature. It’s never a good thing to hide how you feel. It’s something I still struggle with, but I continue to work on to this day. Sure as a leader you need to practice composure at all times, but you must also balance that with knowing when you are overwhelmed and need help. I have battled tough times, journeyed through a divorce and the rigors of entrepreneurship. I have battled depression and had suicidal thoughts, and only when I decided to seek help was I able to overcome.
As a father, I always convey never to hold back how you feel. I also make sure my daughter has a clear picture of who I am, flaws and all. We do no justice by allowing our kids to have a distorted view of ourselves. I now have a better relationship with my dad than when I was a kid. We think as men that our story is to play hero, but we are only heroes when we show our true selves, faults and all.
Photo: Flickr/ Michael Vance