As part of a really beautiful and activating personal growth programme I’m about to complete, we were asked to tell our Hero’s Story.
To look back on my life and sieve for the situations in which I dared leave the usual, to step into an arena, to take risks, to believe in myself.
I spontaneously thought of a million examples in which I moved forward bravely, and I couldn’t come up with any grand one at the same time.
Thinking of my Hero story, I feel accomplished and like a failure simultaneously.
See, I have a dear faraway friend who is an army doctor and who rescues people from Mount Everest and in war zones and anywhere in between – and he is one of the most beautiful, smiley, warm, loving and humble people I have ever had the privilege and honour to cross paths with.
When I think of heroes, he comes to my mind and heart.
I don’t come to my mind or heart when I think of ‘hero’, but this exercise called me to do just that: find my own heroic stories.
Interesting, and for me therefore: food for thought and processing.
First, I looked up ‘hero’ in the oxford dictionary, just to make sure I got it:
- A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
- The chief male character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize
- (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.
Then there is also the Hero’s Journey, often mentioned, well-known and strived for by growth seeking folk, such as my ambitious self:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Some of my Hero’s Stories
OK, so let’s go about recognising myself on my path, and seeing a moment that required extra bravery and faith. A turning point moment, one of those moments that by saying yes, or no, and by taking brave conscious action, my path would be changed, and mainly, I would transformed in some way. I know this to be true: change comes from action, action comes from courage, courage comes from action… it’s a flow that is fun and scary to join!
You’ve got a voice to change a nation yet you’re biting your tongue
I spontaneously thought of that speech I made at my cousin’s wedding back in 2008.
Truthfully, it was more of a toast, but to me it could just have well been a Ted talk in an arena filled with millions.
My other cousin, the bride’s sister, had nudged me to make a speech – I was the maid of honour, and ‘it would be nice’, she’d said. I knew she was right, but the thought made me nauseous. See… this nudge came to me at a time when I would blush when I had to speak up at a meeting, or tell a story when everyone would listen (yes, even at family events) – heck, I’d blush at ‘hello’.
But: I did it! I wrote a speech, it took me days to write. Then I read it over and over again. I learned it by heart. I made my sister listen to it three times on our drive from the church to the venue. I barely spoke a word to anyone during the reception, refrained from drinking before the speech, and barely touched the starter course of the meal… And when the time came, I braced myself, walked up to the stage, took that microphone and… made my speech.
I know my toast was for the bride, really, but in my reality, this was a very selfish moment. While the words and sentiments were for her and her husband, the intention and act were for me. For my brave self. For my voice. For my standing. For my courage. And for all the opportunities I wanted to grab for myself. For not accepting my own beliefs that limited me. For busting the fears and self-judgement and all kinds of mental saboteur talk as to why I would be bad at this and nobody would want to hear me.
I stood there and spoke out loud for my own potential.
A huge added bonus was that people applauded and complimented me afterwards. And what do you know, it did boost my confidence, and since then, I have made more speeches, I tell my stories out loud, I speak into a microphone to hundreds of people in aeroplanes in my job as flight attendant, I deliver workshops to groups of people in my job as a coach – I have even given trainings to airline crew on how to make public addresses. Don’t get me wrong, it still stirs up my insides to think I am to make a speech or speak up in public, I’m not ready to go on TED (yet), but since that day in 2008: I know I can do it.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Or the Eiffel Tower. Or both.
I’m afraid of heights.
That, too, is an understatement. And a lie.
This fear here is real. I feel heights, even the thought of heights, in my body. I remember the first time I walked over the Golden Gate bridge with my cousin (the bride, way before she met her husband), bravely going with her because she was a civil engineer student back then who loves bridges. It would have been wrong to not cross that bridge of all bridges with her.
I felt every single tiny vibration. Never mind being told by the expert that those vibrations needed to be – see, the thing about a phobia is that the mind knows it is irrational, but somehow the body and heart feel unsafe.
So I entered a state of trance walking across it; like a mantra I told myself to just keep walking, while my skin felt like it was shrinking around my body, my tummy was on a rollercoaster and I just had this one desire which was to slowly kneel down and roll over into a side-lying child’s pose. But I kept walking, she took the photos. And I walked straight, without altering my speed or course. I vaguely remember couples having to separate to let me by – I don’t remember interacting with them in any way, though I may have.
Phobias take over the body. They also grow, and by growing they reduce our range of possibility slowly and surely. Unless… unless we meet them. We all know this.
Meet the fear, be with it;
and only then can you live with it, even move on from it.
And so it happened that one day, in 2014, I went up the Eiffel Tower.
I had lived in Paris for three years (15 years earlier) while studying there, two of those years with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I had brought all my guests to its feet and waved them off, peacefully waiting for them in the park below. I did enjoy lying in the Champ de Mars, and never felt any desire to go up that tower. But here, that day in autumn when I was visiting a very dear and entrusted friend, he surprised me by bringing me to the Eiffel Tower. As dear and entrusted as we were, he didn’t know of my fear of heights.
However in the meantime, I had been working with coaches and the likes on ‘stretching the comfort zone’ and growing beyond my limitations.
I realised immediately that I was presented, once again, with the opportunity to stay – or grow.
I remember briefing him on my needs (‘I need you to stay with me, but not talk to me, and for the love of all gods, make no funny jokes or swift movements!‘), and I remember him treating me to a thimble of overpriced champagne at the top.
From that day on, I’ve been going up things. Not enthusiastically seeking the experience, and still innerly negotiating the value of ‘going up’ versus ‘not going up’ (sometimes I don’t go up, more often, though, I do) and I meet this particular fear with a more informed opinion:
‘I’ve been up the Eiffel Tower, I’ve crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I’ve had a meal on the CN Tower and I will no longer be told by fear that I can’t do it – if I don’t do it, it is because I don’t want to, that’s all!’.
Climb that goddamn tower and mountain, oh yes, do it!
In 2016 I climbed my own mountain in My Big Walk through Swedish Lapland – an act of courage that happened inadvertently and for which I still take the liberty of bathing in pride.
(you can read the stories in my other blog here: My Big Walk – lauraschummer.com).
We are everyday heroes, really.
The more I think of it, the more I see our everyday heroism.
Meeting someone new requires the courage to open up, even if only in politeness. Opening up to someone new and trusting that I’m safe, whatever happens, requires a certain amount of courage.
Surviving every single heartbreak is a heroic act. The fact of leaning in to the possibility of being loved or hurt is heroic to my mind.
Facing the hurt and letting it go (for some reason, that seems to have been the pattern in love for me so far, lean in – let go) is another heroic act.
Writing a personal blog post and publishing it to the world requires courage.
Joining a personal growth training does, too.
Asking myself the important questions in life, and being with the answers, even challenging them, takes courage.
It can be really hard to get up in the morning and trust the process, even when I don’t understand or even see it in periods of setbacks and downs.
Accepting that today may not feel like my day, and still believing in the power of presence in the moment, the power of pain and healing, the power of universal forces aligning, is an act of courage.
Every conscious step and every conscious pause can be seen as acts of courage.
Oh, we are all heroes when it comes to our own courage;
we are the hero of the story that is our life.
So how come it doesn’t feel like that?
Is being brave being a hero?
To me, there is one thing that stands out in what the Oxford English Dictionary definition says about ‘hero’:
‘A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.’ A hero is admired for their noble qualities.
Essentially, to me, being a hero has always been hand-in-hand with an act of generosity, kindness and salvation towards others.
Like my army doctor friend, who is a hero to me because he saves lives in very dangerous, for him too, situations.
I always believed that, despite my acts of courage for myself, I will only be a hero when someone else gets to benefit from it. For some reason I have always seen that to happen in extreme situations, such as war zones, hospitals, tragedies, traumas, therapies and healings.
And since I have not yet had the courage to uproot and ‘go in’ to those situations, since I have not yet had the confidence to believe that I may have a skill that could actually benefit someone in distress, I have not yet seen myself as a hero.
However this exercise, the writing of these words, has helped me consider that we are, actually, heroes to each other. In our very every day life.
We are heroes, to each other, in our everyday life
I noticed a while ago, that whenever I have taken the courage to step outside the comfort zone, I was always, ALWAYS met at the gates by others cheering me on, and helping me forward.
We have allies everywhere, I believe every encounter we make can be an ally to us in some way (read my post Meandering about Wonderland on the different kinds of people we meet), and maybe being the ally to someone else’s courage or healing is what makes us a hero.
Whilst I needed to face my fear and scratch my slithers of courage together to make that wedding speech, it was my cousin who nudged me who is the actual hero of the story: she saw my potential, she believed in me, and she encouraged me in the right ways to be and stay brave whilst facing my demons. My cousin is the hero of my hero story.
maybe, I’m the hero to someone else’s courage?
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”- Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn By Living (1960)