Stop Worshiping Your Heroes. It’s Killing Your Motivation.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Bowing down to people who have “made it” is good way to make sure you never do.

In fact, Angela Duckworth wrote an entire book around the idea that long-term motivation toward a single goal is the most important quality one can have. A quality which she calls grit.

I’ve written about why I think it’s the most important personal development skill of all.

To be sure, you’ve got to stick with something for a long time in order to have a breakthrough that’s worth talking about.

And if you’re the kind of person who is hyper-focused on which place you come in, you might be well on your way to quitting.

The goal of this piece is not to be a crusader for the “everyone gets a trophy” movement.

Instead, I want to both increase your chances of winning and help you enjoy the painful process along the way.

To do that, let’s revisit the ancient Greeks.

The Payoff of Effort

The ancient Greeks had an interesting take on public education.

Olympic official Cleanthis Palaeologos explains.

“The ancient Greeks turned COMPETITION into an institution on which they based the education of their citizens.”

David Shenk elaborates:
 The ambitious goal was to assist as many Greek citizens as possible (though not women or slaves) in their aim to attain the human ideal. To achieve this, public spaces and customs were designed to encourage public education, mentorship, achievement and the competitive spirit known as AGONISM.

As if fostering a competitive environment as a means of public education isn’t interesting enough, the concept is further enriched by their view on winners and losers.

The bedrock of this movement was the idea that the results of their contests were a means to an end, not the end itself. A term which they referred to as agonism.

Shenk continues:
 Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for one another, explains political theorist Samuel Chamber. “Indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself.”

While there is little value in being a pushover, there are times when you simply must take your eyes off of how far you are behind your competitors.

I was reminded of this while attending a writer’s conference this week.

Why Hero Worship Kills Your Motivation

Several of the speakers at Tribe conference were people whom I admire greatly. They’ve written books that shape my ideas. They’ve had the kind of success that I hope for someday. They’ve engaged in a very competitive environment and emerged the victor.

Huge kudos to them.

But if I want to stay motivated, I must respect them for their success while not worshipping them.

The reason is if I place myself in the mindset that their super-high level of success is the only thing of value I completely overlook the most important thing in creative work.


The struggle itself.

And that’s where the value is.

While it’s unlikely that I will ever reach the level of financial and public achievement of many of the speakers, it’s an absolute certainty that I can grow by leaps and bounds by the simple act of engaging in the struggle.

The same way that they do.

This is something that not only I try to live by, but it’s something I teach my students as well as my own children.

Because believing that there is value in the struggle is the best chance they have of not giving up.

I guess what the Greeks were saying was that in the end, you’ve just really got to love the grind.

So, find your grind.

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