There’s two ways people naturally relate to someone you perceive as a hero: worship and degradation. Neither of these is useful. Worship leads to awe and paralysis. Degradation leads to malice and blindness.
I remember the first time I experienced both in the same day.
First a bit of background – while in middle school, I secretly wished to be a comic book artist. I would draw a frames on the back of every test my teachers handed back to me. In college, my friends finally persuaded me to go with them to a convention in Minnesota.
I was elated to learn that Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, a whimsical, sci-fi web comic, would be there. I’d started reading Sluggy with my friend and secret-penpal/crush, Amy Clark a few summers back. His simple art style and witty writing had given me hope that I could do something half as cool someday.
Volunteering behind the scenes at the convention, I readily chatted, enjoyed drinks and talked game theory for hours in the break room with some of the guests. In fact, I didn’t even know who many of them were until years later. You may recognize them by the names Fred Gallagher, Steve Jackson and Neil Gaiman.
Then I ran into Pete randomly during the convention. Bam. I awkwardly stumbled and stammered through a conversation and he politely invited me to join him after the con for board games and hanging out by the pool. I was elated and excitedly asked where we’d meet up. He said the volunteer break room, around 9.
Right on the dot, I was waiting outside at 9. Waiting… waiting…. around 10 one of the other volunteers, a kindly older woman came by inviting people inside to play a card game. Somehow, I won and was awarded with a fuzzy plastic flower. With a jolt, I realized I was supposed to be waiting outside and hurried back out the door. Finally, around 11, Pete showed up.
“You know, stalking. Following me around.”
Frantically, I replied, “Oh, I thought we were going to play board games with your friends. Remember, you invited me this morning? What makes you think I’m stalking you.”
“Well, not many people follow me around carrying flowers.”
I looked down at the plastic, red flower in my hand. “Oh uh, ha, you know, that’s funny, because you see there was this lady and… well, but you can have it if you want it! It’s kinda bendy… uhmm…”
With a confused look on his face, Pete replied, “I think I’m going to just go to bed.”
“Oh. Right. Sure! Sorry, about that.” I left the elevator in incredible embarrassment.
After he was gone, I immediately flipped. Who the hell was he to forget me like that? Man, you know what – he’s terrible anyways. Who cares what a balding old guy like that thinks!
When I finally got back to Rochester, I asked myself… what happened? With incredible insight, my friend Luke Morgan of DubThis said, “You defined yourself as different than him. In that moment, you lost sight of who they really are and stopped being who really were.”
Ever since that day, I set aside that kind of hero worship and tried to see people for who they are, not for what they have or what they could do for me. And that has made all of the difference.