Heroes are not made overnight

photo by Mandar Khire

Last weekend, my cousin visited us from Ujjain. He recently completed education and started his career less than a year ago. Bucking the long standing trend that I’m familiar with (getting into IT), he is into large civil infrastructure (as opposed to building software) projects. We spoke at length about the quirks of his industry and challenges too. He is still starry eyed about possibilities in future and has a strong desire to later on develop a career in a completely unrelated field that has topped his passion list right from his childhood. We were talking about possible approaches — their risks, challenges and potential.

I ended up strongly advising him that he should avoid approaches that require him take up series of heroic efforts in order to achieve results. My primary reason for this view is that it is hard to repeat heroic efforts — sustain them — for, they take up took much energy, will power and require a pile of luck to pull off. Keeping very high motivational levels continually for long periods of time is difficult — there is only so much reserve of that kind in most of us and it takes long spells of time to recoup these reserves. Much later I realized that I misled my young cousin — he thought I was suggesting that there is no point in aiming to be a “hero”, someone who is not afraid to dream big and achieve extra ordinary stuff. This made me think about how miscommunication is so easy — after all each one of us comes from a very personal and unique context. So, here I’m clarifying my thoughts on this — and reminding myself of the long but sustainable path to progress/success.

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man(person), but (s)he is brave five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many examples of folks achieving extraordinary success — heroic success not built on heroic efforts but built on sustained, regular, frequent, improvements. While the trends may be changing a little, until recently, most hit films (Tollywood, Bollywood, Hollywood etc) are films where the heroes prevail over the villains in impossible climaxes — some of my favourite movies of this genre are Mission Impossible series, Die Hard and James Bond series. Historical texts have also embellished quite a bit of history with heroes indulging in heroic fights in having good prevail over bad. We clearly have great fascination not just for heroes but for heroic efforts as well. There is something very glamorous and exciting about heroic efforts. But one potential down side of glorification of such efforts is that requirement of heroic efforts keeps extraordinary success out of range for most of us regular folks.

Some of the most remarkable sports persons today — MS Dhoni, AB Devilliers, PV Sindhu, Djokovic (pick any one you find remarkable) etc — some of their achievements are so spectacular that even they could not repeat their feats — even these world-class performers, can’t repeat their heroic performances. Well, I think heroism is well within everyone’s reach. I strongly believe that the path to heroism may be punctuated by what seem like heroic efforts but it is essentially composed of a certain attitude and its follow-through reflected in everyday efforts of the heroes. Heroes are “pro”s — they do what needs to get done — they do not need a particular mood or motivation to go about their duties. And their daily activities are focused on constant progress and growth, small (even tiny) improvements frequently and regularly — they don’t just do work — they end up gaining something beyond the immediate work output — more knowledge of how things work, enhanced skill, something extra!

One of the greatest examples of contemporaries who personifies this attitude is Charlie Munger. Everything about him is a progressive mindset and the follow through actions. His heroic acts (examples of great financial investment successes) are natural consequences — they are just climaxes of months, years and decades of effort. A great example from history is Benjamin Franklin — everything about him was “hero” attitude — growth mindset and sustained efforts — single minded focus and result orientation. Other examples are Swami Vivekananda, Narendra Singh Modi, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Xi Jinping, Jeff Bezos, John Boggle and several more.

To give an analogy — in the case of personal financial investing, if ”hero” status is reflected in net-worth, then heroic act is reflected in the “rate of return”. Apparently Warren Buffett made his first stock purchase at the age of 11, became a billionaire at the age of 55 and has been one of the richest persons on this earth for a while now (in his 90s now) with a current net-worth of $80+ Billion. He grew his net-worth from $1B to over $82B in 35 years which comes down to 13.4% return year on year. $82B is a fabulous number whereas 13.4% is a good number not heroic.

Just to be clear, my intention is not to glorify net-worth. I was using the above analogy merely as an illustration. In determining what makes up a hero, to each one’s own. I have a lot of personal heroes — many of whom are runners — not necessarily the fastest or the farthest ones but ones who have accomplished stuff despite their circumstances. Inevitably, their successes have been a result of sustained, consistent, incremental progress resulting in great breakthroughs every once in a while.

I think that we all do heroic things, but hero is not a noun, it’s a verb — Robert Downing Jr

While heroic acts are the most visible and popular manifestations of heroes, it is worthwhile to realize that heroic acts are the culmination of long periods of focused, everyday efforts. Being a hero is no one’s monopoly — we can unleash the heroes within us by putting in the long hard and smart work that is required — not by getting intimidated by the ultimate heroic acts.

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