When Heroes Fall

Hardly a day goes by without us hearing of some hero that crashed and burned. An article in today’s NY Times covers all recent Olympic champions who were stripped of their medals due to doping.

We all fall in some way or another. What then?

Instead of descending into disillusionment and becoming cynical about people (or ourselves) how can we learn from such painful experiences?

One big lesson I have learned is to beware of idealizing others. Nobody can sustain perpetual success. Take any Linkedin bio and try and imagine these stellar people without failure. Such reality testing keeps us from myth making.

Why is it so important to recognize that even the greatest amongst us have warts? Maybe it is because

  1. We unconsciously refuse to see such people for what they really are. 
  2. In a very flawed world we want to escape into the world of superhero saviors? 
  3. We fuel the myth about our heroes because we avoid looking at their and our  feet of clay.

 And what are we to do with our own lapses in good judgment?

We can start by

  • Embracing the ever-present shadow self

The ego will always rear its ugly head as it seeks self-centered gratification. However, instead of descending into despair when we act on the prompting of our shadow, we need to learn to respond with self-deprecating humor, mercy, and forgiveness.

  • Refusing to get into “bad mind” thinking

Whenever we stumble and fall in our relationships and career we can listen to the bad mind that tells us that we “don’t have what it takes”. I remember a neighbor telling me two decades ago after my painful divorce that maybe I was not the “marrying type.“ If I had accepted that “truth” about myself I would have fallen into a mental trap that would have excluded me from the happiest years of my life.

  • Learning to tap into our own inner wisdom 

We all have a wise inner self that is not always audible during tough times. What I have learned is that this inner wisdom speaks in a very soft and sometimes inaudible voice. Finding silent places in our selves, nature, and solitude helps us access this voice that whispers life-affirming truths to us. It is also the most powerful antidote to all the naysayers and doomsday-thinkers that repeat the word “impossible”  to us.

  • Finding a balance between trusting others and expecting them to be human

The quest for balance involves that we take our heroes and ourselves with a “pinch of salt”. We recognize that no one leader or group has all of the answers we need all the time. Everyone crashes and burns and has feet of clay. However, that reality should not make us abandon our ideals that spur us towards our continued pursuit of excellence.

Heroes fall for many reasons. At times it of their own doing (doping). Other times it is the result of an unfortunate accident. But, in the end, it is how they make their comeback that counts.

At the Olympics in the men’s 10,000 meter race, Great Britain’s Farah Mo tripped and fell near the middle of the race. He got up, shook off the accident, and with the encouragement of his friend went on to a stunning victory.


What helped you overcome adversity?


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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