What Makes a Hero?
Perseus defeated Medusa. David beat Goliath. Odysseus saved the Greeks in the Trojan War.
It would seem that a hero is defined by the trials they face and the obstacles they overcome. However, in today’s world, there are no monsters for us to battle, and no giants for us to slay. Instead, we try to find meaning through our careers and what we accomplish.
But, is that the path to true happiness?
It’s easy to believe that finding our own dragon to vanquish will be what brings passion and purpose to our lives. And, although choosing to cross the threshold in pursuit of something greater is a noble cause, it often clouds the path to fulfillment.
We sacrifice health, relationships, and values to pursue a vision, reassuring ourselves that once we get there it will all be worth it. But, even if we do manage to reach that Holy Grail, we still feel empty inside, so we assume that means there is still more we have to accomplish.
There is a quote in the Bhagavad Gita that goes: “You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. The desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Renounce attachment to the results. Be even-tempered in success and failure.”
Resting the fate of our happiness in some external goal is a fundamentally flawed idea. It gives power to events out of our control. Only when we forgo our attachment to the results of our actions can we truly find joy in the actions themselves.
It’s not about what we do, but how we do it.
For example, doing the dishes has been universally accepted as a mind-numbingly boring task. Unfortunately, we all have to face the endless pile of dirty pots and pans eventually. But, there are two ways you can go about doing this.
You can scrunch up your sleeves, halfheartedly rinse plates, dump everything into the dishwasher, and finish the job half-assed. Or, you can adopt a more positive mindset. Turn on some good music, roll up your sleeves, and commit to doing the dishes better than anyone has ever done them before.
Even though doing the dishes is not an enjoyable task and doing the job properly takes up even more time, you still walk away feeling oddly fulfilled.
This idea applies to the entirety of our lives. When we act with intention and the goal to do the best we can, to be the best we can, we live meaningful lives regardless of what we do.
When we fail and we fall — as we most certainly will — it doesn’t define us: it’s how we deal with that failure that shows who we truly are — our attitude in which we meet life and all the hardships and challenges that it has to offer.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for a career you’re passionate about and attempt to make a meaningful impact on the world. You should. Just recognize that slaying the metaphorical dragon is not what will bring you fulfillment, it’s the path you take, the people you meet, and the memories you make. That’s what makes a hero.