Why You Shouldn’t Worship Your Heroes

David Durante on Highbar
(One of my favorite gymnasts to watch, David Durante (2007 US National Champion & World Championship Team member) on the high bar)

I want to talk today about hero worship and why you shouldn’t do it.

Back when I was training gymnastics seriously, before college even, I was invited several times to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO as part of a week-long training camp.

There I was, along side a bunch of other impressionable teenagers, training with some of the best gymnasts in the country (and the world). I’d seen these guys on TV, when NBC would broadcast the US Championships (where I would later make my brief one-time cameo on national television) and the Olympics. I was ready to be blown away.

But after training with these guys for a week, I realized something:

My heroes weren’t really that special

They still struggled to learn new moves. Messed up and got mad at themselves. Nursed injuries. Argued with their coach. Even slacked off and fooled around sometimes.

Just like I did.

The biggest difference between us was the intensity of their training and their all encompassing dedication to the sport (living and breathing the sport at this training facility in the middle of nowhere for years and years). Of course there were some components of natural ability (a sense of air awareness or an ease with developing great strength) but other than that, my heros were pretty much like me and every other gymnast I knew.

I’ve taken that lesson to other areas in my life.

We got to meet and talk to some amazing founders in going through Y Combinator – which is awesome, but not something to get too hung up about it. I learn what I can from them and move on. There’s no need to assign them some mythical wisdom or god-like abilities that you can never reach.

Mark Zuckerberg? Brian Chesky? Drew Houston?

They’re mostly just passionate, hardworking and somewhat nerdy dudes who are very good at certain things and now find themselves leading influential Silicon Valley companies.

My current perspective is that with focused dedication, deliberate practice and good advice/strategy/coaching, you can, over time, get really really good at most skills. Maybe even into the 90th percentile. The last 10% is out of your hands – good genes, an early start, an exceptional mentor. And of course the multiplicative factor of great timing/luck. But again, not something you can control, so why worry about it?

Just focus on what really matters, bust your butt and stop worshipping your heros.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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