I have no heroes. Life is better without them.
Thank you for reading. See you on the next one. 🙂
THE HEROES I ONCE HAD
A “hero” is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. For me, having a hero is like having an idol. It’s someone with a specific talent or attribute that encourages you to place them upon a pedestal.
I had two heroes when I was a little boy, before I was school age.
They were my uncles. One uncle had a great deal of confidence and came off as witty. The other was a solid guitarist. I viewed both of them as models to consider imitating. I wanted to be just like them.
The funny thing about life is that our perspectives change as we get older. For me, what I once found impressive became red flags over time.
Both of these heroes eventually fell. But how? Why? What happened?
HERO 1 of 2: THE GUITARIST
My uncle who played guitar was truly inspirational to me. He played in a band called “The Sounder,” and played all over west central Indiana. He had the most awesome tobacco burst Les Paul that I had ever seen. He played so effortlessly.
One time, he sat with me and wrote out an F Major scale, starting on the first fret and using all strings. This was in 1969, and I would hold on to that piece of paper until sometime around 1975-76, when I started playing guitar myself. I would sit with that paper and practice that scale.
And when I’d practice that scale, I’d think of him. One day, I was going to be just like him.
But this changed in the summer of 1985, after my second year of college. He came back to Indiana to visit, so I went to my grandparents’ home, where he would be staying.
He had brought two 10-speed bicycles along and asked me if I wanted to go on a ride. We rode for maybe 20 miles. At times, it was difficult to keep up.
During this ride, I confided in him and told him something that I didn’t want anyone else to know. Without getting into dirty details, let’s just say it was something I knew he had done when he was 20 years old. I did the same thing.
In looking back, I think that this was an attempt on my part to be more relatable to him, and to gain favor. After all, he was an amazing guitarist, he and his band influenced me, so why not?
When we got back to the house, the first thing he did was tell everyone in the house about the thing that I told him. He did this because he thought that he was doing me a big favor.
That was in 1985. This “favor” still follows me around to this day. My mother will bring it up at-random, and did so at the Thanksgiving table about five years ago.
To me, this wasn’t just a case of an uncle betraying my trust. This was MY HERO betraying my trust. Stabbing me in the back. Selling me out.
As noted, this happened in the summer of 1985. I am writing this in the summer of 2021, and I have yet to talk to him since that major transgression. Since it has been 36 years since I last talked to him, I believe chances are good that we will never speak again.
HERO 2 of 2: THE SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSMAN
I suppose I should note that these two heroes didn’t seem to like each other all that much. The uncle I wrote about in the previous section above was considered to be a lazy loser who wasn’t ever going to get anywhere. Truth be told, I believe that he is an undiagnosed Autistic.
The successful businessman was the opposite. A real go-getter who was an athlete in high school. He worked manual labor jobs until he moved to California, where he was told that he’d not ever get hired in manual labor because “that’s what Mexicans do, and they do it for almost nothing.”
He claims that he was told this when he was looking for work on oil rigs. So he got into investing, insurance, and wealth management. I was significantly closer with this uncle, so I would give him a few breaks before things got ugly.
I worked for him for a while in 1986, while also working at McDonald’s. I didn’t stay long, however. He had me doing some phone calls that turned out to be unethical. His wife would go to the City Hall and get records of couples who’d recently had babies. I was given a list with names, phone numbers, and other information.
I called the first number and a seemingly kind woman answered the phone. I tried to give her a sales pitch about infant insurance. I heard the phone drop, and it sounds like she is crying out of control. Within a few seconds, her husband picks up and asks me what I’m doing. I tell him, and he informs me, “Our baby died three days after we brought her home, you monster.”
I hung up.
I also quit, right there. I told him that I didn’t feel that this was a good thing to do, and not worth the money. I don’t know if he dropped the idea or pressed on with another person.
Another reason why I quit was because he never paid me. I kept holding out for the day when I’d be paid my $5 per hour. It never happened.
Nobody got rich by paying the people who help them get rich.
Our second run-in would not happen until April 1999. We were having dinner at his house and the television was on. We were watching live coverage of The Columbine High School mass-shooting.
At the time, nobody knew what was going on, so people had their ideas. One of the ideas that the reporter suggested was that these were “outcast kids” who had been bullied by jocks [athletes], and they snapped.
To give this more context, this uncle was a jock, and I was an outcast.
I say something about how bullying other kids at school is horrible, abusive, wrong, and needs to be stopped. He counters my statement by saying that, “The jocks set the pecking order for the school. They determine who gets the best girls. They decide who gets preferential treatment. And they keep deciding this for our entire lives.”
I got pissed, stood up from the table, and said, “Well, by the looks of it, I’d say that your pecking order bullshit just got re-pecked.”
I left his house and did not go to his house again.
The third and final straw was in early 2003. I had the most horrible day of my life, to date, when everything went wrong. It was raining really hard. I had lost my job. Someone stole my car. I got a call that my father died. And my mother called to tell me that she had cancer.
It can’t get much worse than that.
The car was found, but I was in bad shape, as were my finances. Mom had gone into surgery and was recovering.
I went to a flute performance to support a fellow musician. On break, my phone rang. It was this uncle, whom I’d not spoken with for the previous four years. He never apologized or anything.
But he called for a very specific purpose. To yell at me.
“What are you doing? Why are you still in LA? You should be HERE with your mother. Your mother is dying [hyperbole] and you need to be here and present in this room.”
I think that he was over-compensating because he paid no attention to his own mother when she was dying, because making money was far more important. And that’s the thing in America. You can pick wealth building, or you can pick family. You can’t have both.
He assumed that I could not afford to drive out to see her, which was true, so he continued his attack.
“I don’t want to hear that your car is broken down or stolen. I don’t want to hear about your money problems. You need to beg, borrow, or STEAL to get your fucking ass out here to see your mother.”
I replied, “Since you don’t want to hear about any of it, I won’t tell you about any of it. I’m not one for begging, but would you spot me $100 for gas and other expenses?”
He said, “No,” of course, because he’s a greedy narcissist.
Finally, I let him have it, telling him that I have my relationship with my mother, that we have OUR own understanding on how we want things done, and that he needs to keep his nose out of my fucking business. I told him that it wasn’t my fault that he neglected his own dying mother, and that his compensation for his own failings was painfully obvious.
That call ended with a harsh hang-up. We have not talked since.
I did tell my mother about it. She said that she was fine with me not coming out to visit in-person. She doesn’t like people in her room, and when people DO show up, she feels like she has to get up, take care of them, and entertain. She was in pain and couldn’t stay awake long enough to have a long conversation, so a personal visit would have been a total waste.
As I said, we have our understanding.
THE HERO RETROSPECTIVE
While these two uncles were my childhood heroes, the hard truth was that they were and are both highly-flawed individuals. We are related by blood, and that is the only thing we have in common.
Neither of them really cared about me. The second one saw me as a joke, and he loved messing with me and teasing me. For the longest time, I believed that people will do this to you if they like you. It’s basically a positive spin on abuse.
By putting them on a pedestal and the inviting them into my life, I was setting myself up for disappointment. Because they were not really those awesome people I thought they were.
The guitar player quit and did nothing else that I can speak about. I really have no idea what he has done with himself. The successful one was and is a Malignant Narcissist. I have no room in my life for those destructive monsters.
HOW THIS LESSON HELPED ME
My falling out with the first uncle happened in the summer of 1985. My first of three incidents with the second uncle happened in the early months of 1986. By late summer of 1986, I was in Los Angeles, working to pursue a career in music.
When you’re a young musician, it is seemingly natural to want to place successful musicians onto a pedestal and declare them to be heroes. This is not only unreasonable on the part of the young musician, but it is unfair to the successful musician.
In the mid-80s, there were a great number of self-declared “success gurus” who had lots of advice. One piece of that popular advice was to study, analyze, and figure out the behaviors of people who have already succeeded where you wish to go. If you can meet with them and talk to them, then you’re in an even better position to succeed.
Just as a heads up, the music business does not work this way. I tried.
So whenever I would meet a famous musician, it was always in my best interest to NOT entertain their prior hero status. What I really had to do was to talk to them as peers.
Talk with those famous drummers as fellow drummers who made it in the business. Ask them questions and take their advice to heart.
The more I did this, the easier it got. Over time, I would come to realize that things like luck, family connections, industry connections, and other things I would never personally have, played a major role in their success in the industry.
Being a great drummer is never enough.
As a result, I was able to become friends with some drummers and other musicians whom I had previously admired as my “music heroes.” They became regular, real people. They became peers because I treated them as such, and the good ones returned that treatment.
This change in my perspective was not a guarantee. Some of these people were just plain jerks, like my uncles. When I’d find this out, it was still a disappointment, but less upsetting to me. This is because I no longer had hero-like expectations of them.
MESHING WITH THE BEST
Getting rid of the “idolize the heroes” mentality allowed me to have more authentic conversations. On occasion, it also allowed for some awesome friendships.
One of those friends is Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, who has been drumming for “Weird” Al Yankovic since 1981. 41 years!
We met on a drumming forum in the mid-2000s. He saw that I was posting some things, which indicated to him that I was getting mixed up with some shady characters.
He actually called me and we talked on the phone for over an hour to discuss what was going on, how this company got me sucked in, what they’re really doing, and what it’s all about. He even clued me in on why some of my posts were so upsetting to the community.
All of this helped me to change my perspective, my thoughts, my behaviors, and more. It put me in a better place. Bermuda is that kind of guy.
He would later invite me to audition for one of his local bands, as a temporary replacement whenever he went on his big tours with Al.
I ended up not taking the gig because I wasn’t meshing with the guitarist. All the same, I got to be the first to audition for this spot, and I felt honored.
THE PARASOCIAL RELATIONSHIP
I could go on, but I think the point has been made. When you stop looking up to people as heroes, it gives you the chance to get to know them.
The alternative to getting to know them, of course, is NOT getting to know them. Had I not looked up to my uncles in that way, and had actually gotten to know them, I might have had a better childhood experience. Maybe we would have had a different relationship, although doubtful, it still could have happened.
And maybe I’d still be on speaking terms with these uncles.
There is no difference between hero worship and celebrity worship. It makes them out to be something they are not. It mythologizes them as something great, fantastic, and bigger than they are.
And if the person you have turned into a hero is not a good person, they will take this hero worship and use it against you for their own gain. My second uncle did it, and others are doing it right now.
If you’re impressed by someone’s wealth [be it real or just perceived] and celebrity, it leaves you open to exploitation, just as I was when my uncle didn’t pay me for the work that I did for him.
Be honest with yourself. If you worship celebrity, money, fame, or other false avatars of “success,” then I would encourage you to break that cycle and get out of it, before it consumes you or drives you to do something that you will regret.
Hero worship can often lead to what is called a “parasocial relationship.” This is where the person doing the hero worship feels a great connection and bond with the celebrity. This can be a YouTube creator, a rock star, movie star, or even a politician, while the person who is the object of the hero worship has no idea that the other person even exists.
A great current example of this can be found in the people who believe that Trump is their friend, that he will help them, that he cares about them, and so on. I’d call him a shifty used car salesman, but he’s lower than this.
While his fans worship him and believe that he can do no wrong, not only does he not even know that they exist, but he also DOES NOT CARE that they exist. It doesn’t matter. The only person he cares about is himself.
A person like this is never worthy of hero worship, among other things. You can’t even call a person like this a friend, because they don’t have the capacity or need for things like friendship.
IN THE END
When you give up hero worship, you’re putting yourself in a safer place. You’re also having more reasonable expectations of others. You’ll be less likely to develop a parasocial relationship. You’ll also be less likely to be scammed.
“Influencers” on Instagram take advantage of the people who worship them. It’s a multi-million dollar business, and that’s putting it conservatively.
Instead of getting all starry-eyed, consider treating them like any other person. Yes, they have a job that has high visibility and may gain them a substantial amount of money. They might have a household name.
NONE OF THIS makes them any better or worse than anyone else. However, it might allow them to take advantage of you, if they’re actually a bad person. And the person worshipping them won’t even know or acknowledge this.
Consider the young woman, Desiree Washington, who had a parasocial relationship with a certain celebrity in 1991, and then found herself in his hotel room in the middle of the night, getting attacked.
You do NOT want to end up in this situation.
People are people. Humans are flawed and messy. Some are bad. Others are corrupt. Some are decent people. Hero worship and the parasocial relationships that come from them may leave you open to harm. It gets in the way of better judgment.
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