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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A life's work or a day's work? 

It's hard to set out on your hero's journey when you aren't sure where you are going. If I had to name the one thing that prevents more bright, talented people from making a difference in the world than any other, I'd say it was not knowing what the difference is they truly want to make.

It seems that most of us would-be heroes are listening very hard for The Call -- the inspired message that will tell us once and for all what we are supposed to do with our lives -- but we aren't quite sure how to recognize the real thing. One morning you feel unusually determined to do something about global warming and you wonder, "Is this it? Have I heard The Call now?"

But when you find yourself the next day strongly pulled toward a project to help teenage runaways, you think, "I guess that global warming idea wasn't the real thing. Maybe this is it." And your plans to take action about global warming go out the window. But you're still not sure about helping those teenage runaways. After all, you were wrong before about hearing The Call. Maybe you had better wait and see how you feel tomorrow.

As someone who has heard and acted on more than one inspired message in the course of a lifetime, here's my experience with the "how to be sure" question. You can only ever know what is right for you today... or maybe this hour, or this minute.

There is a moment on each journey when we take the step that sets things in motion which prevent our easy retreat. And I think that often it is the mood we are in at the very moment we take that step that determines the journey we go on.

There is probably no single mission in life that will hold your attention forever. There may not be just one mission that will satisfy you completely for even a short time. But one thing is sure -- if you wait until you know without a doubt what that mission is, you will also be waiting to do what good you can in the world in the meantime.

I say if there is a mess in front of you and your hand lights upon a broom, pick it up and start sweeping. Perhaps ultimately a mop might do a better job, or even a shovel. But the longer you wait to decide what tool to use, the longer the mess will be there.

I don't mean to suggest you should just throw a dart at a random list of ways to help the world. But you have probably already done a lot of studying and thinking and listening about what your mission in life should be. Most people I talk to are seriously considering no more than a handful of different ideas at any one time.

What I am suggesting, though, is that you should allow yourself to be moved in the direction of action regarding one of these ways to be of service the next time some useful action presents itself to you.

There will be a moment when that action will turn into a commitment and then there will be another point when you can decide if the direction you are going feels right. Even after you commit, most commitments are negotiable. Once you have set upon a course, you can usually still change it, although it becomes harder to do the further along you go.

But since it's likely that no decision you make will be permanent anyway, why not simply choose to make one based on what is calling to you most in that moment? Then you will act, and in acting, you will learn more. After deciding, you will feel differently than before you decided, and that too, you will learn from. When you decide and act, you will tell people about your choice, and from their reactions (and from your own when you tell them), you will learn still more.

And while you are learning these things, you will simultaneously be contributing your unique talents in the direction of cleaning up a mess that is much in need of cleaning.

In many ways, I think there is little effort in acting to clean up the world's messes that is truly wasted. If you decide to work helping runaways for a time and then decide it is not for you, the runaways and you will still benefit. In fact, if you were to work or volunteer on a different path of service every month for the rest of your life, you and the world would still benefit.

In the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami, I read a news report that created a subtle but profound shift in my thinking on this issue of waiting to be sure about the best way to be of service.

A village leader in the Aceh province of Indonesia was interviewed by a journalist two weeks after the tsunami. "How much foreign aid is reaching your village?" the journalist asked.

"We can't understand it," the elder replied. "All we see are journalists and aid agency workers making studies. People come with cameras and clipboards and ask many questions. Then they leave and never come back. We need food, we need water. People are dying. Please stop sending people with questions about what we need and send us some help."

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A day on, not a day off 

On Monday, Jan 15, the U.S. will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday. But what many Americans don't realize is that in 1994, Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of just taking a day off from work or school, Americans of all backgrounds and ages are encouraged to honor Dr. King's memory by turning their concerns into positive action.

Each year on the King Day of Service, hundreds of thousands of Americans volunteer in their communities, building homes, painting schools, delivering meals, and teaching children about Dr. King's life. Many projects started on King Day continue to involve volunteers long after the holiday and benefit their communities year-round.

It's not too late to find a volunteer opportunity for yourself this coming Monday. You can find local organizations sponsoring King Day projects on the King Day of Service website, or through the USA Freedom Corps or the Corporation for National and Community Service, which sponsors projects such as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Get Involved! and Learn and Serve America.

In the words of this year's presidential proclamation of the holiday, this can be a day for us all to "...recommit ourselves to the dream to which Dr. King devoted his life -- an America where the dignity of every person is respected; where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character; and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood."

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One heroic act 

Did you make any resolutions this New Year? According to an A.C. Nielsen survey, over half of all the people in the world did in 2007. The most popular resolutions worldwide were to get more exercise and have a better work/life balance. Other top choices were to go on a diet, quit smoking, avoid bad relationships, and change jobs.

There's nothing wrong with resolutions like these. If we all paid more attention to our physical and emotional health as well as our job satisfaction, the world would be a happier place. But I'd like to see another sort of resolution make the top ten. What if we were all to resolve to do just one thing this year to make the world a better place?

Imagine the positive impact on a global scale if each of us took on just one significant task to better the lives of others or the state of our planet. We all have the capacity to be heroes if we allow ourselves to claim our own greatness. Could this be the year that you take a giant step forward on that path?

Here's my invitation -- choose one heroic act that you are willing to perform in 2007. Look outside yourself and your circle of family and friends to the wider world that is so in need of your skills and talents. What's just one thing that you could do to be of greater service?

I've pondered this question for myself, and decided that my heroic act this year will be to launch or join a project in support of educating girls in the developing world. There are several organizations already doing great work in this area, so my commitment is to forge an alliance with one of them and contribute enough of my time and energy to send at least 30 girls -- a classroom full -- to school this year in a developing country.

That's my heroic act for 2007 – what will be yours?

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