Be your own hero first | Life, love and the influence of popular culture

Dr. Andrea Pennington
Thrive Global
Published in
7 min readMar 29, 2019


Cards on the table, I have an agenda here. By the end of this post I want you to know that love is an inside job. I also want you to know why this is something we learn with time and experience, and not something that necessarily comes easily to us.

In an ideal world, we would be born with an innate knowledge that self-love is the key to many things in life; confidence, security, mental wellbeing, and the ability to have a healthy relationship with another. Who knows — maybe we are born with that innate wisdom! But if we are, I’d argue that it’s conditioned out of us at a young age.

Why? I think that all the influences around us sometimes teach us the ‘wrong’ lessons. Life, society and popular culture drip feeds us messages constantly. We do a great deal of our learning about the world simply through what we absorb from our environment.

So let’s consider for a moment what we’ve been absorbing through our environment. I think today, popular culture is generally doing a better job of showing us positive messages, at least in some ways. There is the #bodypositive moment on Instagram, and fashion and beauty brands are embracing diversity in their models and ambassadors.

Of course there is still plenty of negative messaging going on too, we are far from living in a Utopia. But progress is always worth celebrating.

Music is a medium that has a great deal of influence on all of us, I believe. It’s always on in the background somewhere, from the car radio to the dentist’s waiting room, it’s a part of daily life whether we choose to embrace it or not.

I’ve always loved music, and I’m sure the songs I’ve loved best have become so absorbed by my brain, simply through the repetition of listening to them over and over, that some lyrics are just a part of me now.

So when I think about my own #RealSelfLove movement and my core message of ‘Become Who You Really Are’, I do draw the comparison between song lyrics from decades gone by and what we’ve grown up feeling we should be in this world.

I’m a single mom bringing up a fiercely brave and strong daughter, and to be honest, I’m glad she’s not listening to the same chart music that played on the radio when I was in my formative years. From rock ballads like “I Need a Hero”, sung by Bonnie Tyler, to love songs like “Without You”, performed by Badfinger, Harry Nilssen and then Mariah Carey — you can start to see the stories we are learning about life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this to sound like an assault on music of the 70’s to 90’s. I love a retro jam as much as the next person, and I’m sharing this with a sense of humor about it. I only want to highlight the messages that we are potentially picking up from the stories in the songs.

When you were younger, did you think that you needed a hero to save you? How about now? As much as this song was, and still is, an epic ballad, I’d rather my own daughter rocked out to songs about being her own hero.

When I think of Without You my mind wants to draw the comparison to artists like Adele, who sing about surviving heartbreak and moving on. Her songs are still sad and romantic, and still epic to say the least. But the messages are more positive. These are the messages I’d like to focus on more, and I want that for our younger generations.

Of course, that’s not to say that messages, good or bad, are directly related to when they were written and released. Back in ’67 Aretha was singing about RESPECT with all of the fire in her soul. There have always been trailblazers for self-love and positivity, and for that I am so thankful.

I’m also reminded of a few fairy tales; where the female characters are mislead by a witch and saved by a prince. If I was writing a similar story for my daughter, I’d want to change it so that the female character sees the witch coming, listens to her instincts and saves herself — and if she wants to date the prince then she can do that too.

I love the way that these movies are evolving though. Stories like Brave and Shrek have a much more of a #RealSelfLove vibe, and I think that’s an amazing thing to have in our young people’s popular culture.

Improving the messages in our culture

In just a few days from now I will be giving my third TEDx, and this time I am taking a few of my wonderful Global Luminary mentees with me to give their first ever TEDx talk. I am super proud of all of them, and one lady is even bringing her take on the influence of music on our lives to the TEDx Peterborough audience.

Sólveig Þórarinsdóttir will be presenting an ‘Idea Worth Spreading’ as they say at TED, on the influence of music on how we feel about life, love and ourselves. Using examples from Pink Floyd to Madonna, I think she is going to blow a few minds. Sól is even using my own track, I Love You, Me, that inspired my book of the same name.

What I’m most excited about is for people to leave that presentation with Sól’s message of love ringing in their minds louder than anything less inspiring or less life affirming that they might hear on the radio or on TV. I’m delighted to be a part of a movement that is bringing deep thinking and empowering messages to our culture.

How to be your own hero first

There is of course more to this than attributing our problems to mixed messages from popular culture. The idea I want to spread here and now is that unlike the song lyrics from I Need a Hero, we don’t need to hold out for a hero until the morning light. What we really need to do is to become our own hero first. Much in the same way that we need to love and accept ourselves first before we can create a truly balanced, loving and healthy relationship with another person.

We might think we want to be saved, but what we really need is to save ourselves. The love and acceptance we seek is more plentiful inside of ourselves than anywhere else.

If you have ever struggled with an unhealthy, unbalanced or co-dependant relationship, then you will have already learned the painful lesson that seeking approval from your partner is a disappointment waiting to happen.

The trouble is that we’ve been raised to believe that we need that love and approval to come from somewhere else, and this is what I’m talking about when I refer to disempowering messages from popular culture.

What we need to understand and embrace is that self-love, self-acceptance, and indeed being your own hero is really a journey, not a destination. We grew up with some of the less-empowering ideas in our head. We aspired to be fairly tale princes and princesses. We dreamed of being the 80’s pop stars we idolized. We learned that men needed to be heroes, and women needed to need them.

The process of growing up and becoming who we really are is, in some ways, also a process of unlearning our previous conditioning.

This is really where I believe we should start — with that unlearning.

Instead of watching one more fairy tale, or listening to one more sad song about how losing love means your happiness is gone forever — how about focussing on your own journey of self-discovery?

If you’re not listening to a story about who you should be — then who are you really? If you’re not comparing yourself to something you’re not — then do you see more to love about yourself? These are really important questions to consider.

If you were a movie character, then what kind of hero would you be?

I know that to say “Become Who You Really Are” might sound too simplistic to some people. They might well ask, “Well how do I do that when I don’t know who I really am?”

My suggestion then is to turn down the volume on the outside influences telling you who you should be. Just listen to yourself for a while. Trust yourself, trust your instincts, like the hero that you are. The answers will come.

If you’re interested in applying for the Speaker Circle private mentoring or Global Luminary Academy and following in the footsteps of trailblazers like Sólveig, then send an email to and introduce yourself. We look forward to getting to know you.

Originally published at on March 29, 2019.



Dr. Andrea Pennington
Thrive Global

Self-love + Resilience| Personal Branding + Publishing | Meditation | Free Ebooks@