Start Treating Your Personal Heroes Like Peers

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Denise Urena. Denise is a writer and confectionery artist. You can follow her on her blog, Nurturing Creativity, or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Even the smartest, most inspirational, and most revered people are just that… people.
—Amber Rae

There are several successful writers I admire. These are people I feel like I could never measure up to. I’m sure you’ve got your list, too. We all do. But this is the worst thing we could do.

Superheroes Sign
Photo credit: Brett Jordan (Creative Commons)

We admire these people because they share their passion in ways that most of us are afraid to do.
 We love them because they embody the success and courage we hope to have… someday.

We follow the work of these people closely, even viewing them as superheroes in some cases. We connect with them through their personalities, their influence, and, of course, their achievements. We applaud and congratulate everything these leaders do. But in doing this — in acting like fans, in making these people larger than life — we do them a disservice.

This is not what we’ve been called to do. We’ve been given a greater opportunity than merely sucking up. We have something to contribute, too.

You have more to offer

Let’s be clear: It’s okay to be a fan. What we need to work on is the fan mindset.

Take a look at what fans do:

  • Fans offer generous compliments, usually more than what is adequate.
  • Fans put you on a pedestal and hold back honest, valuable feedback.
  • Fans idealize your success, rather than the hard work leading up to it.
  • Fans frequently promote all your work, adding to your social proof.

Admittedly, I’ve acted as the fan plenty of times, offering nothing but empty flattery.
 Eventually, though, I learned that my heroes deserved better. Compliments are nice, but pandering serves nobody.

There is an alternative to acting like another mindless drone, an alternative that serves both you and the hero. In fact, it can even make you better at the work you do.

Act as their peer

Stop treating successful people like they are ego-starved, as if they need your high fives and pats-on-the-back. They are people, just like you and me. And it’s time you started treating them like peers, not celebrities.

Take a moment and consider what peers do:

  • Peers praise each other appropriately.
  • Peers exchange ideas and offer each other constructive criticism.
  • Peers respect one another, based on shared passions, interests, or experiences.
  • Peers add real value to your social proof, by thoughtfully sharing your best work with others.

There is far more value in acting like a peer than as a fan, if you want your heroes to take you seriously. But there is also greater risk. The question is: Can you make the switch?

How to transition to the “peer mindset”

If you’re ready to move from “fan” to “peer,” here’s what you need to do:

  1. Change your thinking. Start viewing successful writers and artists as peers rather than heroes.
 If you strip away the success and social proof, what’s left is a person who loves to write, paint, or create.
  2. Change your actions. Match your actions with your new mindset.
 Start doing what peers do, not what fans do.
  3. Expect nothing in return. Having a peer mindset isn’t a trick to get you connected with successful people.
 It doesn’t mean you will get anything in return, so let go of the expectations.

This doesn’t mean you’ll instantly become best friends with famous people, but it will teach you something about yourself: namely, that anyone can be a professional. You just have to act like it.

The reward

This is not charity work, mind you. Treating your heroes as peers has its rewards. Some will, in fact, reciprocate. However, beyond that, there’s a greater reward. This is something you mostly do for yourself, so you can start taking your work seriously.

This is about placing the focus where it matters — not on celebrity status, but on the craft itself. Which is where it belongs. And trust me: The real heroes will thank you for it.

What about you? 
How have you unfairly treated your heroes as larger than life? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Brett Jordan (Creative Commons)