You Have a Hero Complex Thanks to Just About All Media

I’ve been reading the Night Angel trilogy.  It’s okay.  A real page-turner, but I don’t find myself marveling at it like I did with Game of Thrones.  (After Game of Thrones everything else pales, and this post explains why…)

The main character is introduced on page 1.  He is normal.  But we discover that he is indeed NOT NORMAL.  He is marked for greatness.  He is special.

You see this everywhere.

The main character is special because of an accident of birth.  His midichlorians are off the scale.  His father was actually a secret king.  He is a descendent of the first men.  He is chosen, seemingly at random, to apprentice with a legend.  He unwraps the golden ticket.

In better cases, he is defined by a single act.  He slays a dragon, pulls a sword from a stone.  His victory is an event, a crowning moment.

In worse cases, she is special in spite of her inadequacies.  I say she, because unfortunately, this is a common trope of female protagonists in popular books.  Bella is chosen by Edward because….of how she bites her lip?  I’m really not sure.  It seems to me that she is boring and treats everyone like crap.  Even Katniss, who is extremely skilled with a bow, winds up being relegated to a symbol of rebellion rather than someone who consistently rebels (props for her decision to stand for her sister though – that was a true act of heroism).

But I digress…

None of this is real life.  In real life, you don’t get chosen at random for greatness.  No one is truly exceptional because of their father.  No one harbors any latent magic ability to control the Force.  We are all just regular people.  We will not be thrust into greatness.

Neither are we defined by a single act.  No one pulls swords from stones or defeats an emperor and then is DONE. Yet in fiction, the main character does one great thing, pretty much out of nowhere, and that defines them. And even if they trained, we see that in montage form.  Rocky trains for 3 minutes then spends 10 beating the crap out of Ivan Drago.  Luke whines in Dagobah for 5 minutes, then defeats the most powerful warrior in the galaxy (helps that Luke is also blessed by being innately special). And just to be clear.  If the narrative of some real person’s life includes a defining moment, say Larry Page and Sergey Brin founding Google, it’s never really a defining moment.  They didn’t invent Google out of nothing.  They both busted their butts for years to develop the skills to create “BackRub” (as Google was first called).  Then they busted their butts for several more years to build the product.  Then for several more years to build the company. Fiction would have us believe that all we have to do is sit on our butts and wait for the narrator to write us something extraordinary. It ain’t happening. You want to live extraordinarily?  You’re going to have to do something about it.  Something absolutely ordinary.  Like practice your guitar scales.  Push yourself to speak to three groups of strangers.  Write 750 words.  Every day.  For years and years.  And then, maybe, at the end of that un-filmable and un-narratable journey, you’ll be an overnight success.  

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7 Responses to “You Have a Hero Complex Thanks to Just About All Media”

  • This is unfortunately the brutal truth in real life. It’s so easy to buy into the overnight greatness portrayed in the media, films, and books.
    I have 10+ years experience in my profession, and still have to push through mistakes and challenges to become better. It’s a journey of peaks and valleys, and sometimes, when the stars align, a smooth path.

    • It’s kinda cool though, isn’t it? To look back after 10 years and know that all that experience is the gulf that separates newcomers from where you are at skill-wise? Whenever I get bummed out about how much work I have to put into something I care about, I just remind myself: “This is why other people won’t be able to catch me.”

  • I really like the idea behind this post and the fact that it’s neither overly optimistic nor debilitating, just realistic. Yes, you can be the rock star, the powerful CEO, the freelance, or (insert dream here); you just have to work your ass off. I’ve recently been interested in “living life with a purpose” and a little faith may be required in spending your whole life with one mission, but if you put your entire self into something you love you can achieve greatness. Just don’t expect it to be handed to you!

  • The Night Angel Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies of all time. I’d recommend anything by the author Brent Weeks. good article as always Charlie.

  • I’ve got this one in my main “oh, I forgot that wisdom” reading list the I revisit from time to time. Anyway, I was surprised to see this only had 6 responses after a year or so.

    Will this make it into a video someday? (Or did it? I haven’t seen them all.) Gotta spread that truth goop.

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