You Should ALWAYS Meet Your Heroes

Or, by its alternate title...

Picking Better Heroes

I often hear the advise that one should never meet their heroes (and, please note, I'm talking about personal and professional heroes, here, not roleplaying game heroes (what?! Ben's not talking about roleplaying games?!))
(Image from DC.)
This is, as I have found to be, infinitely shitty advice. Some of the best connections I've ever made have been with my heroes... But I think this is a pretty rare thing, in the grand scheme of things. Why is that? Well, because people choose crap heroes, of course!

The underlying reason why people tell you to never meet your heroes is because those people will a) shatter the magic for you, because they're normal people, and b) have crappy views, or turn out to be actually awful people.

Therefore, this post is about how to find people who should be your heroes, and how to make sure that by meeting them, you'll be meeting a future friend, ally, mentor, and all-round amazing person (perhaps a few of mine are reading this right now - sup folks!)

Step #1 - Shop Locally

The biggest issue I see with people when they choose heroes, and then have those heroes disappoint them is that they've decided to put all their money behind someone they don't know, and more importantly someone they can't easily get to know. People look to celebrities, far off figures, and industry giants for their aspirations, and this is fundamentally flawed.

For starters, as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs teaches us, we shouldn't look too far from our current standing, lest we get dizzied by the heights. We'll be Homer Simpson comparing ourselves to Edison. Sure, Edison's a great role model to follow if you want to invent heaps of cool stuff, but if you've never invented anything before, you're going to have a very long road ahead of you before you can get even the slightest blip of a win compared to that name.
(Image from Simply Psychology.)
I suggest looking at your local scene or community. Are you wanting to get into activism? Look for someone active in your area who is doing great work. Do you want to make cool games? Look for a local designer. I guarantee you that there will be people near you who are doing awesome things. Find them.

This doesn't necessarily mean you need to find people geographically close to you - the Internet is a hell of a place. But it does mean that you should stick with the communities you're already in, or can slip into easily. Find your local IGDA meet up. Look on Facebook for local protests. Ask around your local Uni, or Uni Facebook pages, etc.

Step #2 - Do Some Research

Next, find out who your potential new hero is. This doesn't mean stalk them. I'm going to say that again in super underlined bolded italicised text:


If it it's on Facebook, read the posts they make publicly. If it's in person, ask them questions before reaching out. What are you looking for? Why, politics, my friend.

Despite what many people think, every action, thought, and spoken word has politics tied to it. Everything a person is is a reflection of their politics (even if that reflection is to stay out of politics). By getting a hint of someone's politics, you can get an idea of what kind of person they are. Is this someone who you find respectful? Is this someone worthy of being looked up to?

This is a big breaking point for a lot of people when they idealise celebrities, only to find out they're misogynists, racists, and so on. People's work doesn't always show their politics well - and generally, the more someone shies away from talking politics, the more you should be wary. People who are loud and proud about their politics tend to be stronger voices, anyway, and are ones who will help challenge you (if you decide to jump behind them).

Step #3 - Engage

The third big things is that many times if you're thinking someone is worthy of being a hero for you, they may think it themselves. There is no worse person to be a hero than a narcissist.

Engage with the person, even lightly. Whilst in no way do they owe you their time (and, honestly, they're probably busy), you will need to get a sense of whether or not that person considers you a worthy person to talk to. If they don't, then, honestly, they're probably not that great a person to begin with (sorry folks). This often ties into their politics, as above.
(Image from Black Industries.) I love this book, and it is very relevant to this discussion for me.
As I said, sometimes people are just busy, so don't jump to the conclusion that they are bad people. But if they're too busy to respond to a little reaching out, then they're going to be too busy to be a meaningful hero for you. That's fine, it just means this is the wrong person to focus on...

If they get back to you, and they're awesome, and amazing, and super nice... Or even if they're just willing to say hello back and treat you like you are a person as well. Well. Good job, Potential Hero!

Step #4 - Cut Them Some Slack

In the same way you want someone who treats you like a person, you need to treat your hero like a person, too. And you know what? People fuck up. Again and again. They just do. Therefore, your hero might fuck up from time to time.

Depending on the scale of the fuck up, you should be willing to forgive your hero. If you've shopped locally, done some research, and engaged with them and heard back, then they should be a good enough person for you to cut them some slack.

So do. Cut them slack. And if they transgress too far, maybe coax them back? Who knows, maybe you'll be as much a mentor to them as they are to you...

The true lesson behind this step is that, in the end, your hero won't (if Step #3 was passed) think that they're a hero. They will certainly have their own heroes. And hey, maybe there are those out there who consider you a hero. You don't need to worry about disappointing your fans, so neither should they. They should just focus on being good people, and so should you. Take them as an example and talk to them to learn how to be better. Or not. Just be challenged!

Post Script

I know this was a weird, kinda-rambling tangent from my usual content... But I felt it needed to be said. We get hung up on the people we idolise (and, I mean, free Step #5 - don't idolise people!) and often that clouds our perceptions and doesn't let us actually learn from them. And that's a shame... Because we can all learn something from the heroes out there.