When Heroes Turn-Out To Be Heroes

There are many kinds of heroes. There are the ones almost everyone can agree upon like first responders to disasters who willingly step into harm’s way for others. There are heroes by example who do thankless work to try and make the world a better place. Sports, entertainment, even business provides us with people we truly admire for many reasons.

Sometimes we get to meet them. That experience can be cursory; a handshake, a quick word and away they go. Other times we might get to witness them going about their lives when we see them acting like anyone else, riding a subway, ordering coffee or waiting to catch a plane. Sometimes we get to interact with them more directly and we see a glimpse of the person. They could be having a good day and the experience is great and memorable. They could also act like a douchebag leaving you wishing the truth hadn’t revealed itself. Encountering our heroes is an opportunity for awesomness or disappointment.

Last week I got to meet one of my heroes. Scott is the author of a book I found helpful some years ago and it’s popular enough that many of my peers will agree with me when I say the work is important. While helping coordinate a conference, I invited him to be our closing keynote speaker and he accepted. I thought I was winning at life! I spoke to him a few times before the event mostly to sort-out logistics. He was always very nice — not demanding at all.

When he arrived at the conference, Scott texted to let me know he was there so I went to greet him. It was early evening and he was about to order dinner and invited me to join him. For the next few minutes he had several questions about the event; its history, its objectives, what he might expect when it was time for him to speak. during the meal a few friends stopped-by and I introduced him to them. Each time he was gracious and spent a little time visiting before they left. We also learned we had some mutual friends and talked about our experiences with them. When the meal was over, we checked our arrangements for the following day and said our goodnights.

The next day was a track-meet for me, This is a big conference and we had several tracks running simultaneously. The other coordinators were either absent for family reasons or not feeling well and needed me to help cover some additional duties so I was in pretty much in constant response mode. During the day, I ran into Scott a couple of times as he was enjoying the conference like any other attendee but there wasn’t any time to visit. During that time, one of the sponsoring groups asked if he would sit for a 20 minute recorded interview which he did willingly. We also had a book table and the ladies who ran it asked me if he would be signing books at some point. I asked Scott acknowledging that we didn’t arrange for this when he agreed to speak but he was totally amenable and worked-out a time with the book ladies.

That afternoon we got together to set-up his speaking space. They had to trun three big room into one humongous room and we were testing microphones, laptops and clickers as people were filing in. I had the priveledge of introducing him and I managed to do it without gushing before he gave what turned-out to be one of the best presentations we ever had at a conference that boasts Oscar winners as past keynotes. His talk held something relevant for an audience that included designers of every kind from digital to analog and animators to engineers. Afterward, he went outside the ballroom to sign books which he did for nearly an hour talking to everyone who stepped-up — and not just in that cursory way. He really met them; asking questions and sharing ideas. Near the end of the line was a tall young girl clutching a folio and when Scott was signing her book, she asked “I know you had a long day but would you mind critiquing my comic art?” He said “Sure. Let the line finish and I’ll take a look.” After the last five or six folks got their chance to meet him, Scott cleared the chair next to him and invited the young artist to sit down. I walked away to give them time to visit and I talked to one of the other coordinators who wanted to know if Scott would come to the after-party at a local bar. I turned around to see Scott and the artist really engaged. I took a picture. They spent another 20 minutes or so discussing her work. When they were done, I asked the girl for her e-mail and sent her the picture I took.

I told Scott about the after-party and asked if he wanted to go. He said “Sure! Can I get a ride?” I typically don’t go the after-party because the rooms are kind of small and crowded and I’m usually exhausted which means as an introvert, I’m not at my best so of course I said “yes” and off we went. When we arrived, the place was crowded. There was free food and drink and I made a point not to hover but I did watch as people invited him to sit-down and he had long conversations with anyone who asked. I went downstairs to visit with some other folks congratulating us for putting-on a great conference when he came up beside me and said. “I’m a little parched.” He caught site of the pool table and said “You know what, you don’t have to talk much to shoot pool. Let’s shoot pool!” So we did. I won a game that showcased both of our sad skills and stayed to play the next-up while Scott went out to the front patio to visit some more.

After I predictably lost the game, I joined him. The people at that table were closer friends of mine so I pulled-up a chair to talk with a long-time colleague. This went-on for another hour or so with the chair configuration evolving until about five of us including Scott were talking about drawing faces. He was eating dessert after which he got what has to be the most aggressive and vocal case of hiccups I ever heard. That was time to go back to the hotel. The drive was short so we were there quickly and as we walked-in. I thanked him not only for coming to the conference but for the graciousness and ease with which he dealt with everyone he met. He said “Well, I suppose you could call it enlightened self-interest but it’s just easier to be nice. Nice things happen back.” We shook hands and he said “Maybe I’ll see you at breakfast.”

When I went down for breakfast the next morning, he was there and soon, we were joined by the other coordinators for the conference. We had a great conversation over our coffee, bacon and eggs. He thanked us for creating such a welcoming atmosphere and told us how much fun he had. Finally, he said he had to go so the group broke-up with hugs all around. That’s never happened at this event.

When the conference ends, I’m usually on my hands and knees exhausted. This time, I was energized not only because the conference went so well but because this week, I got to witness a clinic on how to be a guest and and host at the same time. I’m lucky enough to get to attend events around the world and even speak at some of them. I get introduced to a lot of people who, it turns-out, look up to me. I can only hope I leave the same impression as Scott.

Sometimes, we get to meet our heroes and they turn out to be every bit as cool as you hope they’ll be. Sometimes, even cooler.

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