“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”
– Maya Angelou
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
– Stephen Hawking
In my last post here, I reflected on leadership, bringing varied references about visionary ideas from the business arena (Clay Christenson and his take on disruptive innovation and Yvonne Chouinard’s environmental manifesto for Patagonia etc.) and the pop-culture arena (Isaac Asimov and Joss Whedon). In this post I want to reflect on heroism, a potential outcome to embracing change, facing adversity, and rising above it. I want to tie that to some unexpected advice for female entrepreneurs, on how to bravely pursue entrepreneurship. How to balance technology, media, and the voices outside, with your own inner one. How to retain your humanity in today’s competitive startup culture, with its psychological warfare occurring online, and the Hunger Games parody being reenacted in real time.
What does it mean to be human, driven by altruism and empathy, instead of primitive, self-protective instincts that serve animals well in the face of danger? (Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs gone wrong!). What does it mean to be human, to speak up for those who can’t, and take a stand on issues others won’t? To first privately and then publicly change one’s behaviors and then work to change the behaviors of others, to make a difference? To be brave and embrace change?
These are questions people ponder, from all different walks of life and eras. These are questions that matter, and that the American entertainment industry, who tries to have its finger on the pulse of our collective zeitgeist, is eager to deliver their version of response to, for a more relevant, “user-friendly” consumer experience. From the epic film Braveheart about Scotland’s William Wallace, to the Disney girl-empowerment movie Brave, from Kerry Washington’s portrayal of the powerful, multifaceted, intelligent, tormented Olivia Pope in the brilliantly done TV series Scandal, to Joss Whedon’s interesting take on his motley crew of heroes in his latest body of work, Agents of SHIELD, these questions are being asked in a variety of ways and scenarios. Some are “making the cut”. Some responses/performed responses are remaining on the cutting room floor.
Some responses don’t make a ripple. Some responses cause a backlash of social media traffic and a flurry of praise or criticism, such as Darrin Franich offering suggestions “how to fix” the floundering team of agents (I agree with some of it, and am personally ambivalent about this series because the characters lack something, maybe gravitas), and David Dennis telling us why it’s OK “to think Olivia Pope’s a rogue not a hero” (I partially disagree with some of it, especially his view that Olivia’s a nasty home wrecker, but appreciate his viewpoint and writing). To me, Kerry Washington is the real hero here, and I’m SO happy she is one of Glamour‘s Women of the Year.
I have watched both above average shows since they started (yes, I admit that I eagerly watched Scandal “live” from Day 1, and went back and watched it again on my DVR before the next episode, unlike the Twitterati who have only recently made it go viral!) Why? Because the best entrepreneurial lessons come from stories of flawed heroes and human beings, doing regular things, until that defining moment they have to choose to be irregular and “put on the cape”, or “put on the white hat and become a gladiator”. For a while. Because in truth, real heroism cannot be sustained, and is better in small doses, for both the giver and the recipient. Real heroism is about setting the stage for others to connect with you and join the movement. Real heroes walk a different path, are out of step with the average person, risking becoming estranged from others, and ultimately from past and future versions of oneself.
Shonda Rhimes understands this, which is why she is already penning an end to the clever, adrenaline junkie inducing, controversial political drama. Joss Whedon has known this for years, which is why he was given such an extensive interview (a true honor!) in the August 30, 2013 issue of Entertainment Weekly by James Hibberd. I am a devoted fan of Shonda’s rollercoaster storylines and shows, and all the Whedonverses, especially the Buffyverse. To me, Buffy Summers and her Scooby Gang provided the mold. Provided the watershed show that is the prototype that allowed the architecture for other television characters like Olivia Pope on Scandal, Queen Regina on Once Upon a Time, and Carrie Mathison on Homeland. These women all provide the seamless meshing of human, gut-wrenching drama and female empowerment, via cautionary tales of morality and bravery, not for the faint of heart.
What do Whedon and Rhimes, two top notch television bards know that we don’t; about bravery, about human nature? They know that at the end of the day, true heroism is about an authentic human response of feeling divided about decisions made, to seeing all the ramifications of someone else in trouble and still acting on it, and to avoiding “the dark side” of one’s nature in times of quiet, when nobody’s looking.
That’s why I look beyond TV stereotypes and story archetypes to find heroes in everyday life I can learn from, especially flawed ones at that, who can be more relatable. There are heroes and authentic human beings all around us, who quietly step up to the plate, not realizing the spotlight will come looking for them. Getting into the limelight is easier now than ever, thanks to social technology and our morally ambiguous and fragmented society’s growing hunger for lessons in authenticity and humanity. There are many role models and genuine heroes in the news these days. Take the US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Susan Collins, who collaborated to stop the government shutdown last month. Consider Malala Yousafzai, the secret BBC Blogger from Pakistan, whom the Taliban shot for going to school, and who was nominated at age 16 for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also one of the nominated Women of the Year at Glamour, together with Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, the female teacher dubbed “The Protector” . She quietly saved her students last year at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in CT, and started the nonprofit social entrepreneurship company Classes 4 Classes.
Think about Mark Kelly, the deeply devoted husband (and thus heroic), and his brave wife Gabby Giffords (also a 2013 Glamour Woman of the Year). Have you heard about Jonathan Fitzpatrick, the young, British electrical engineer dubbed the Typhoon Hero, who quietly saved trapped families, gave money to a man left homeless, and “risked his life for complete strangers….working on his human instinct”. Read about Seth Adam Smith’s bravery and profound reflections about life, love, relationships, and the human spirit of giving, all shown in his recent blogpost that I first read on his website, ForwardWalking.com and then again in The Huffington Post when it went viral. The world needs heroes, now more than ever. People need to read heroic stories for various reasons.
Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals just blogged about it on their latest post, The Heroic Leadership Dynamic Part 3: How Hero Stories Energize Us. Their blog, Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, has been on my radar for some time, since Dan Lyons first spoke about the hero’s journey and storytelling. You can read that blogpost here. According to Allison and Goethals, people need heroes to energize them and help them grow and embrace change. They list three reasons why hero stories are so popular and necessary for human beings:
1. Hero stories heal psychic wounds (holding us back)
2. Hero stories inspire us (to move forward)
3. Hero stories promote personal growth (to evolve and make a difference, for ourselves and others)
Who are your personal heroes? What heroic stories linger in your mind long after you finish reading them? Believe it or not, one of my personal heroes is Barbara Streisand, who overcame many personal and professional obstacles to get where she is today. I laugh when Rachel Berry on Glee channels her, but I was actually thrilled she is also a Glamour Woman of the Year. When interviewed for her lifetime achievement award, Barbara gave 5 tips worth remembering, which I will interpret for female entrepreneurs using my NICE lens:
1. “Find your passion, what you love to do”. Advice for starting your business: Your startup venture will not succeed because of an infusion of venture capital. It will succeed over time, because of the regular infusions of passion that fuels you to try new things and try harder to make things work.
2. “Trust your instincts”. Advice for scaling your business: You will need to heed that inner voice, to know when to bootstrap and when to accept venture capital. When to get mentored and when to discard one who is holding you back. You will learn who your true friends and supporters are. You will learn which trend to follow or ignore; economical, technological, or social.
3. “Stay true to yourself”. Advice for branding your business: Get to know yourself first, before offering your service/product to others. What is your learning style? Your communication style? Your unique skill set? Your areas of weakness? Be genuine and transparent, and change behavior for the purpose of increased productivity, not authenticity. Your core values should be in your company’s mission statement and carry through in all endeavors. Your marketing message and style should be consistent i.e. the same “face” or theme provided by your “digital avatar” online, and reflected across all your social media channels.
4. “Don’t Fear Your Self-Doubt”. Advice for providing thought leadership through your business: Don’t be afraid to share what you know with others, to help others get where you are now. Don’t think of it as helping the competition. Thought leadership is about collectively influencing others to help you promote change. So step up to the plate and be heard. Voice your ideas and opinions, and join in the conversation. Provide meaningful content online via social technology, especially blogs and videos. Hone your public speaking skills and visibility. Speak at conferences and industry trade shows. This great blogpost by Jay Baer can help. My take on it from my Tumblr post last week can too. You can access it here.
5. “Take Risks and Don’t Stand on the Sidelines”. Advice for entrepreneurs looking to provide a legacy through your business: Embed philanthropy and social entrepreneurship into the DNA of your business plan as soon as possible. Do it wisely. Martin Zwilling’s blogposts can help, such as this one. Time is short, something I learned as a pediatric speech therapist/Autism Specialist with a limited amount of time to use for the “teachable moment”. Planning goals and execution of plans matter, which I learned from reading about that Helen Keller defining moment where she signs w-a-t-e-r into her teacher Anne Sullivan’s waiting hand. Time waits for no one and nothing, something that really hit home, when I lost my best friend and mentor to breast cancer last year, and spoke at her unveiling at the cemetery, this past Sunday. I was reminded of a recent deeply moving blogpost by social technology thought leader Brian Solis. He wrote, “Change happens to you and because of you. It is what perpetually happens next that defines your character and ultimately your legacy.” You can read his profound article here.
To sum up my blogpost today on heroism and being human, I will borrow from Brian Solis yet again, whose own words reflect exactly the point I am trying to make; with my company’s mission, my blog on Tumblr and here on WordPress, and my upcoming book.
“The impact of your work is the result of the balance you place on reacting to, learning from, and transcending teachers, critics and supporters.”
– Brian Solis
I wish you the kinds of successful, profitable, and meaningful endeavors that will genuinely transcend your way of thinking and thus of doing things. I wish you a measurable increase in your positive impact on other human beings. I wish you become a true hero in both your eyes and the eyes of others whom you step up to the plate for. Good luck!