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Passion, People and Principles

Can We Copy Our Heroes?

post # 157 — August 10, 2006 — a Careers post

One of the frustrations of life is that we can’t always do what our heroes are able to do. In fact, that may be the very reason that why we admire them and pick them out as heroes. They can do (or be) things that we cannot. If we could do it, we might admire it less!

When I was a teenager, my best friend was the natural center of attention because of his ability to sing and play both guitar and piano. I could do none of these, and every attempt to do them led to embarrassment rather than success. It took me a long time to stop trying to copy my hero (and to develop my own ways of getting attention).

Later in life, I came to admire people who could remain calm and self-composed when dealing with troublesome situations, and also people who could be trusted advisors, truly counseling those they dealt with, rather than lapsing into energized problem-solving (“Oh, I have an idea! Let me tell you about it!”)

I co-wrote a book about being a trusted advisor not because I was or am a natural at that skill, but for the very reason that I wanted to understand it better and try – try – to build more of it into my repertoire.

The problem for me is that the very reason I admire such people – their controlled, interpersonal “emotional balance,” is something that I have to work very hard at. By nature, I’m an exuberant, reactive, “wow, look at what just happened” kind of person. It’s not a bad thing – it’s just the base, the raw material, on which I am built – and it would be foolsh (or impossible) to deny it.

What I’ve had to do – what I think all of us have to do – is kind of a dual approach.

On the one hand, I do work at trying to learn from those I admire, attempting to adapt some of the things they can do into my own terms. I try to take “slices” of what they can do or be, rather than try to copy the whole person, which can be discouragingly impossible.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that self-acceptance and building on one’s own “natural” strengths and aptitudes are important.

Rather than ask “How do I change who I am?” or “How can I be more like those I admire?” I have had more success through a (conscious or unconscious) “self-acceptance” – This is who I am, so how do I find a way to be that? How do I make it work for me and for others?

The hard part is not just the advice that we should build on our strengths. That’s very true, but only part of the story. Another important part is “Know – and accept –thyself.”


Coert Visser said:

Hi David,

Interesting topic. I agree that self-acceptance is vital but hard. You say: “The hard part is not just the advice that we should build on our strengths. That’s very true, but only part of the story. Another important part is “Know – and accept –thyself.” Reading your post, I thought discovering, developing and building on your strengths might be the most important key to finding self-acceptance. Doing this may help to discover some valuable and unique things within your self which make self-acceptance easier. Which other paths to self-acceptance have you found? Are there some other essential keys?

There seems to be a parallel with organizations. The urge to copy seems to exist also within organizations. Instead of discovering resources, strengths, and uniqueness within the organization we often tend to look outside for guidance (by reading books about heroes and successful organizations). My feeling is, you can never copy your way to success, neither with your organization, nor with your self.

Best wishes,


posted on August 11, 2006

Jim Hayward said:

I think this is your usual wise comment. Very insightful.

I remenber Bob Schaffer teling me before he did a session with our company that if he heard during the session the comment “He is not saying anything new, but putting it in a different way.’ The next day in the washroom during a break I heard somebody make that comment. I think most of us who do training would consider that a criticism rather than a compliment. What Bob meant was that he was staying within the readiness of the group rather than wowing the group. A special talent.

Each one of us contributes in the way that our gifts and talents take us. I think often our egos get in the way. We often want to be a successful consultant rather than have a successful client.

posted on August 11, 2006