A Hero Needs a Guide

Do you ever feel like you have all the answers for other people? Like you have a good, unbiased perspective on their situation? That you can offer some words of wisdom or encouragement that can help with their decision? 

And then do you ever look at your own life and wonder why the hell you can’t take your own advice?!

Me, neither. Just asking for a friend.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.

From The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Okay. That actually is me. At least sometimes.

I’ve had some hard decisions to make lately. And if it were anyone else, I know what I would say to help them make their decision.

But for some reason I get paralyzed when I have to figure out my own issues. Even though my brain knows what to do, I can’t seem to convince myself to do it. Like my situation is somehow different.

I got tired of trying to work this out in my head. So, I consulted my trusted advisors: books and Google. And I may have figured it out.

We’re paralyzed by hard decisions in our own lives because we’re too close to the situation.

We have a lifetime of experiences that impacted us. Because of them, we’re emotional. We’re biased. So we have brains that tell us one thing and hearts that don’t listen.

Our conscious, “thinking” brain convinces us that we’re rational. That we use facts, reason, and logic to make decisions. That we remove emotion from the equation.

But our subconscious, “silent” brain is stubborn and biased. It doesn’t care what our conscious brain thinks. It does its own thing.

All the people and situations we encounter in life leave imprints on us. Our subconscious brain scans these imprints, and it uses the information to generate feelings and emotions.

This is the “heart” that doesn’t listen. Instead, it goes to battle with our (conscious) brain. And the research shows our heart usually wins.

Almost every decision we make is emotional. Even when we think we’re being rational, we’re not.

We make most of our decisions within the first few seconds, based on emotion. Then we spend the rest of the time during the process justifying that decision to ourselves.

We seek out information that supports it. We ignore information that conflicts with it. More often than not, this is how we make a “rational” decision.

However, when we deal with other people, we don’t experience the same emotions and feelings. We may have been in a similar situation, so we can empathize. But we don’t feel like they do because we didn’t live their life.

We have the luxury of removing the “heart” component–our biased subconscious. We can use our “thinking” brains to give them advice.

So why can’t we do the same thing to ourselves? Why can’t we remove emotion, or at least use it alongside facts, logic, and reason? How do we push through difficult situations and do what we know we should do?

It turns how people have been struggling with this for at least as long as they’ve been writing. And the answer shows up in one of the oldest stories ever written.

Even heroes need guidance. They need a mentor.

A mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” And Googling that to get the exact definition sent me down a rabbit hole. 

The word “mentor” comes from Mentōr. Which is the name of Telemachus’s adviser in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Telemachus is the son of Odysseus, and also one of the heroes in the story.

The same story I read in high school. The same one I obviously didn’t pay much attention to.

So the word actually comes from the second oldest written story ever discovered. And that word is the name of the guide for one of the heroes on his journey.

Apparently people struggled with making hard, personal decisions in 800 B.C. They even gave it (him?) a name. And when a proper name becomes a common noun, it’s here to stay.

Now exiting the rabbit hole.

Great story. So how is this relevant?

We are the hero in our own story.

We’re the main character. The protagonist. We’re imperfect because we’re human. But we’re the hero. This is our journey.

And just like in the novels and movies, every hero needs a guide. Someone to help us find clarity when we’re lost or confused. Someone who has been there and done that.

Daniel San needs Mr Miyagi. Neo needs Morpheus. The Narrator needs Tyler Durden. Will Hunting needs Sean Maguire. Billy Madison needs Veronica Vaughn. (Seriously. And yes, I’m skipping the obvious Yoda reference because I hate Star Wars.)

These stories and characters resonate so much with us because they are us. We are the flawed hero in our own story. We also struggle with fears and insecurities. We resist leaving our comfort zone and struggle with hard choices.

These fictional heroes resonate with us because they need help. They need guidance to overcome their own internal conflicts.

Just like us.

We don’t have to look very far. Mentors are all around us.

We don’t have to find any one person. There’s a wealth of experience we can tap into and use whenever we need it.

For me, books are some of the best mentors. I love having endless access to different perspectives and experiences. I also have a great group of friends and colleagues I can bounce things off of. And most important is my wife. It’s pretty powerful to have a partner in life who sees me for what I really am.

Everyone is different. Our networks are different. Our circumstances are different. But the great part is we don’t have to rely on one source. We don’t have to find that one Mentōr to guide us to victory.

Technology and innovation have leveled the playing field. There’s a world of information available to everyone. And most people are happy to share their wisdom. It’s actually fulfilling to help other people.

But it’s up to us to seek it out. To ask.

There aren’t any shortcuts or silver bullets. And the information and insight we gather is useless if we discard it and move on. We have to act on it.

When we find ourselves in tough situations and don’t know what to do, we should feel okay seeking help. Because we are too close to the situation. We are biased and emotional and prideful.

We’re humans. We’re flawed. There will be times on our journey when we need a little help.

But along the way, we’ll also meet people who may need a little help from us. Because we have something to offer, too.

Way may be the hero in our own story, but may also be the guide in someone else’s.


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