How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Coming soon to a bookstore near you 

I was composing a holiday letter to my clients yesterday, and found my fingers typing the following phrase: "...and working on my next book How to Become a Hero." Suddenly, I realized I was making a public commitment to turn the thoughts captured in this blog into a book. Yes, I have been thinking about that for some time, but by putting it in my letter, it instantly transformed from an idea into a plan. Only problem is, I am already working on a book to come out next year, Get Hired NOW! (Have you, too, noticed that some of your most creative work takes place when you are avoiding doing something else?) So the Hero book will have to get in the queue after that one.

But, since there's no time like the present to get started on a plan, here is my tentative table of contents for the Hero book:

  • Ch 1: What is a Hero?
  • Ch 2: The Hero's Journey
  • Ch 3: Waking Up
  • Ch 4: Preparing the Ground
  • Ch 5: Listening for the Call
  • Ch 6: Taking Action
  • Ch 7: Meeting the Dragon
  • Ch 8: Committing to the Quest
  • Ch 9: Seeking Guidance
  • Ch 10: Staying the Course
  • Ch 11: A Hero's Life
I'll be saying more about each of these chapters in future entries. You'll probably be able to tell how much I'm not working on the other book by how much I'm working on this one.


Altruism or co-dependency? 

I just returned from the International Coach Federation conference in Denver. A colleague of mine who specializes in personality assessment was attending for the first time and wrote me afterward. "I never saw so many altruists in the same room together in my life," he said. No wonder attending that conference feels like coming home to me.

As a confessed altruist, it seems to me that altruism often gets a bad rap. The word itself means "unselfish concern for the welfare of others," according to the dictionary. But there's a secondary meaning that dictionaries attribute only to zoology: "cooperative behavior by an animal that may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species." In practice, I find that many apply this definition to human altruism as well. The perception seems to be that to unselfishly devote oneself to the welfare of others is in some way harmful to the altruist. In other words, we altruists are dangerously co-dependent.

I think it's telling that this secondary definition originates in the world of science rather than that of the spirit. Biology suggests to us that survival is a matter of competition, while spirituality points instead to furthering the species through cooperation. But is there a spiritual doctrine supporting the view that a devotion to helping others must necessarily be harmful to oneself?

In Buddhism, compassionate service of others is given as a path away from suffering and toward joy, not the other way around. In Catholicism, Pope Benedict XIV, who literally wrote the book on determining sainthood, required of the saints that they perform virtuous acts easily and with pleasure and "sweetness." Nowhere does he suggest that they must suffer and struggle to be considered saintly. So is it Puritan Protestantism that's to blame for the glorification of suffering?

While there is no question that the enduring Puritan ethic calls for the denial of worldly pleasures, a close reading of Reformation leader John Calvin indicates that he viewed suffering as necessary not because one should seek it out, but because it is an inevitable part of human existence. He believed that suffering could contain learning; it developed one's compassion and humility and compelled one to look for spiritual answers. He was a humanist who strongly supported active and compassionate service of others in an effort to remedy the evils of his own time. His writings and sermons exhort his followers to serve God "with a joyful heart." What the pragmatic Calvin actually taught about suffering and struggle was not that it should be sought out as an honor, but that it can't be avoided, so one should find some use in it.

Seems to me that these three divergent spiritual sources are all telling us the same thing -- help others not because it makes you feel bad, but because it makes you feel good. Perhaps that's how one can tell the difference between altruism and co-dependency.

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I'm organizing a tea party in San Francisco the first week of December for readers of this blog whose work centers around life purpose or right livelihood. If you're in the Bay Area and fit that description, please email me. If I haven't already contacted you, I probably don't know you live nearby (or that you're a reader).


Unpopular heroes 

I heard Alice Walker speak at yesterday's Green Festival in San Francisco on the topic of activism. At one point, Walker said, "If horrible laws are made, we must disobey the laws." Walker grew up in the segregated South, and married a white man at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in her state. Earlier this year, she was arrested for refusing to disperse in front of the White House while protesting U.S. actions in Iraq.

Becoming a hero doesn't always make one popular. We picture heroes receiving public acclaim, but this is only the case when there is a public who approves of the hero's actions. Yesterday at the Green Festival, Walker received two standing ovations. But there are many who support the war in Iraq, and sadly, many who still oppose interracial marriage. By opposing the war, Walker risks denunciation by its supporters and arrest for civil disobedience. By marrying a man of a different color in segregated Mississippi, she risked violence and even death.

The hero must follow his or her own conscience in choosing the path of right action, regardless of the consequences. Seeking approval and acclaim from others may lead to stardom, but there is no guarantee that route will lead one to heroism.

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Balancing or dancing? 

In the current issue of Shambhala Sun, Cyndi Lee reveals, "The word 'balance' comes from the Latin balare, meaning 'to dance.'" Lee is the author of OM Yoga: A Guide to Daily Practice and her article is ostensibly about yoga, but these words about physical balance could apply equally as well to life balance.

In trying to fit our myriad potential lives into just one time-limited human life, we struggle to achieve life balance. How can one be a hero, make a living, maintain a relationship, care for a family, stay healthy, and take time to smell the flowers all in one lifetime? Or worse, all in one week? We work at the balancing act, trying to craft the perfect schedule that makes room for everything, and hoping that some day it will all miraculously come together.

Perhaps we are going at this all wrong. What if instead of attempting to "achieve balance," as if it were some static state one could arrive at, we simply chose to dance with our crowded agenda? After all, even physical balance can't be maintained without constant movement. Try standing on one foot and you'll see.

Lee reminds us, "You know what happens to water if it stays still -- it either turns into ice or becomes brackish and unhealthy. The same thing happens when we try to latch on to a prescribed feeling or experience." Rather than working hard to get balanced, maybe we should just become better dancers. What would today look like if you chose to dance with your goals, plans, and calendar instead of striving to balance them?


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