They are everywhere at the moment. With the explosion of the Marvel movies, Silicon Valley startups and overnight superstars plucked from the internet; origin stories are all around us. All of them, to a certain extent, are made up. The comic book authors crafted those of the super heroes. The others that exist in the real world cannot tell the story of every little thing that happened. So they have to delete and adjust to a narrative that aligns with how they want to be seen by the outside world or by themselves. Since all origin stories are created in one fashion or another, it may be helpful for your daily life to fashion your own. Not pluck it out of thin air but rather weave some real events of your life in with a narrative that propels you forward.
My origin story goes something like this. When I was 12 years old, soccer was definitely my fall sport. However at that time, the term “travel soccer” had not really grabbed hold. In fact, this was the first year in which my town participated in what we referred to as “spring soccer”. My younger brother was going to play for the spring team at his age group and my father was going to help coach. Unfortunately I had either missed the tryouts for my age group or there just weren’t any. Regardless, the first day of practice came along for my brother’s team. They were sharing a field with the team for age group right above mine. I knew most of the players from school. Although the team was already formed, I decided that I was going to get onto that team. At that moment, I did the only thing that I could think of to get the attention of the coach. I RAN! Rather than sitting and watching my brother’s practice, I started running laps around the field where they were practicing. For the entire 90 minute practice, I kept running around the field. When my father and brother were finished, we packed up and went home. Some time around 9pm the phone rang. It was the coach of that older team, they wanted me to play for the team. That was the beginning of who I became. Someone willing to go the distance and use unique solutions to problems.
If you notice as you read that story, it all fits together relatively well. It’s been 30 years since those events and I could not tell you definitively if that story is 100% accurate. All of those events definitely happened. However I’m not sure if there was a player who broke their leg, so they needed someone else. Perhaps the call from the coach came a week later. In the end, those detail DO NOT MATTER. What truly matters is that the story fits my beliefs about who I am and who I want to be. The event was chosen but the story was “created” because I want to see myself in a particular way. I have millions of other events that have happened in my life. I could have easily chosen to create my origin story using a huge failure and rehearsed an excuse around why I could never be a success because of “that thing that happened”. People do it all the time. The question that is most important for me about origin stories is, does it serve you? Is your origin story going to make you or break you?
If it is not going to help, then change it! Your life story is not objective truth. It is a jumble of memories that have been given varying degrees of clarity and importance. So decide on a moment in your life that can act as a catapult for the days that are coming. It doesn’t need to be something from your childhood. It could be this moment right now! “I read this great blogpost about origin stories and I didn’t like mine. So right then and there I decided that I was going to take action. I….” One of the main things about life is how you feel about yourself when you are alone and have a moment to reflect. If you don’t feel good about yourself, then change your story. Even Darth Vader was able to redeem himself, why can’t you?
Hollywood is regularly churning out super hero movies and their sequels. At the moment they seem to be almost a sure thing at the box office. Iron Man, Spider Man, Batman and Captain America all seem to capture the imagination of the people as they pay big movie theater prices to see these super humans. It is obvious that “super” is what the people want to see.
What if there was a hero named Mediocrity Man? He had super powers that were inside of him but he was afraid of them. Any time that he saw himself do something out of the ordinary, he would instantly recoil and deny his abilities. Rather than keeping his secret identity from everyone else, he would hide or deny his powers to himself. What if Clark Kent never changed into Superman? Would you watch that movie? Of course not.
If this hero existed, why would he hide his powers? The reasons would be the same that you or I don’t do the things that would produce greatness.
- It’s too hard.
- It will take too long.
- I might not succeed.
- Or worse, I might succeed and the people would expect more out of me.
- I don’t want people to make fun of me.
- No one in my family, town, state or country has ever done it before, who am I to be first?
Imagine the Earth being filled with superheroes. What if people were getting most out of themselves every single day? What would that look like? I’ve been Mediocrity Man. I’ve traded in my cape for a t-shirt on a regular basis. Feeling comfortable in the cape is difficult because I know all of my faults, all of my weaknesses and every way that I have ever screwed up. The hero in the movie never falls for long. He gets his super powers and continues on until the world is safe again. For us regular heroes, it’s not a magic movie moment involving a radioactive spider or the destruction of Krypton that begins our ascent. It’s a consistent decision to be the best form of ourselves.
The story of Superman becomes very boring without Kryptonite. A man who is super strong, fast, invulnerable, can fly and shoots lasers from his eyes is not a compelling story. His abilities make him unbeatable. So defeating evil-doers is not a matter of ability, it’s a matter of time. Without Kryptonite, Superman’s story becomes one of an interplanetary janitor who is here to clean up our biggest societal messes. A completely infallible hero is difficult to sell but exposing his Achilles heel makes him a star.
The recognition of Kryptonite as the fuel that drives the story of Superman is not just comic book pontificating. It is the realization of exactly what makes our own lives worth living. Our Kryptonite is death. It may seem like the enemy but it is the thing that makes the moments of our lives matter. Without death, time is an inexhaustible currency that has no value to us personally. Frittering away minutes, hours or even years would be meaningless to the person who will live forever. The intrigue is gone because there is nothing at stake. This is great news!
The time that you do have is a gift. It has value to both you and the people that you touch throughout your life. Don’t become crippled by the fact that you will die some day. Be empowered by the fuel that it can give you to live with purpose and passion. Your existence is only a drop in the ocean of eternity. Make that drop count! The fact that your Kryptonite is out there somewhere in the future makes you both: powerful and meaningful. You’ve got one shot at this . Go for it!
Have a SUPER day! (Yes! That was cheesy! But what the hell!)
At one point in history, the transition from Clark Kent into Superman was done in a phone booth. The changing room for the “man of steel” was a utility of the every man. People could feel their own association to this man with supernatural powers by simply making a phone call. Unfortunately times have changed. The phone booths have disappeared and so have our beliefs in the possibility of greatness for the common man.
In the modern day, the only small changing room available to Superman would be a Port-o-Potty. As depressing as this may seem, perhaps it is the perfect mental picture for the situation of the day. Our inclination is no longer to believe in the magnificent or the awe-inspiring. Instead we assume that everything is a sham, fraud or ripoff. Our hope has been sullied by too many people that sought to capture our dollars and not our hearts. A hero of today almost has to rise out of the refuse because we tend to assume that squeaky clean is too good to be true. Or worse, we cannot believe in our own possibility for greatness because we know where we come from.
Clark Kent, the phone booth or the port-o-potty are all just a prelude to the magnificent. In our cynical world, it’s easy to poke holes in anything and find what is wrong. The measure of the hero is not in his lack of faults. The hero is measured by how consistently he shows up and does what other people cannot or will not. So do not assume because your story is not perfect that it is not your time to be the hero. At bare minimum there is at least one person in this world that needs you to show up every day and do whatever you’re able. That person is you! You’re the hero that you’ve been waiting for!