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)

84 thoughts on “Start Treating Your Personal Heroes Like Peers

  1. You know what I see when I see a hero/celebrity? I see a person who is committed to something and who has worked really hard over a long period of time to do something well. I see a human being who isn’t just what they do, but a person who “puts their pants on one leg at a time”, just like me. It’s a shame when arrogance takes over, but that’s usually a sign of low self-esteem, so then I wonder, why low self esteem? 
    I have no problem talking to anyone as a peer. ‘Cause we are! And I probably have as much to offer them as they do to me.

    1. I see that as well.  Success isn’t a matter of luck, and when you realize that, then it makes sense to view successful people in your field as peers that you can learn from. 

      1.  Excellent post, with a wonderful perspective……I will pass it on to my son who has just graduated college and is in “awe” professionals in his field.

  2. Great post, denise, and really puts things into perspective. I think it’s fair to say I can be guilty of this. You’re right, though. A fan is good, but being equal and honest is far greater.

    Perfect post for the perfect time. Big thanks 🙂

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    1. It’s so easy to get things out of focus isn’t it Matthew? I know I do that with a few bloggers I follow and I have bloggers that do the same to me. 

  3. You have summed this is up perfectly Denise and you’ve made me look at this quite differently. I think we all feel a bit like a star struck fan occasionally and the reality is we are all capable of greatness – equally.
    Thanks for the timely reminder

  4. For me, the hazard of switching heroes to peers is that your new behavior may make you appear as a competitor to this peer/hero (peero?). Sometimes those we think are heroic aren’t so great with competition, actually, and need to feel like they are the alpha dog. They actually want you to be a fan to some degree because they don’t want to have to be competing with you.

    Of course that’s their problem, not yours! And they cease to be a hero in your eyes when they do this, so it’s a pretty awful situation. It is much easier when the “peero” is in a different field than you, so their ego isn’t threatened.

    1. I’ve seen that as well.  Not everyone is open to accepting peers and perhaps their goal is more about superiority or being the best.  Having a peer mindset can require some humility.  For me, the more open I am to learning from or helping others in my field regardless of their social status, the better I get at what I do.

  5. I’ve actually felt bad in the past about my inability to be star-struck. I make a terrible fan! But I’ve also found the same as you, when you approach someone as a fellow craftsman, you make a real connection. Fannish fervor is like empty calories for your ego. No one needs more of that. 

  6. Great post Denise!

    Most of my fans (a.k.a. mentors or role models) are, indeed, real people.  When you really get to know them, they have many of the same positives and negatives that I have.  We’re all a bit flawed, aren’t we?  But that’s what makes us — us!

    I like your idea of thinking of them as peers.  Because, bottom line, we’re all in this together. 

    This is my favorite line from your post:  “If you strip away the success and social proof, what’s left is a person who loves to write, paint, or create.”  Touche!

    The community of creative-types is one that I’m proud to be a part of.

    1. Thanks!  Same here, it’s a great community 🙂

      When you get to connect with those that have reached that level of success, you still see a common ground – a passion for creating.  So, there’s an opportunity there to connect and learn.

  7. This is a great article!  Really what I needed to hear right now.  I try not to be star struck, but sometimes I feel in awe of other’s knowledge when, in fact, sometimes it’s just really more experience. 
    Thanks for helping me keep my perspective!

  8. I just repeat, it’s not a competition. It’s not a competition. That helps me A LOT.  Especially when listening to Hendrix or reading some Hemingway.

    1. Good idea.  In my experience, thinking in terms of ‘competing’ affects how true I stay to myself when I create because the competition becomes a big factor in my choices.  But, allowing great artists to inspire or influence you is never a bad thing – if their work speaks to you, I believe it’s for a reason.

  9. Great advice! As a reporter, one of the best tips I got from a mentor about interviewing anyone was, “Act as if every celebrity is a  nobody and every nobody is a celebrity – you’ll get better interviews.”  

  10. Great post.  I’ve worked in industries where celebrities were accessible and you realize they aren’t any different.  When you feel ‘less than’ for any reason you are simply getting in your own way of success, I think.  The really successful people we look up to have worked their collective butts off to get where they are and they respect the same effort from us.
    Want the fame? Do the work.

    1. Thanks, and good point.  That ‘less than’ mindset would certainly get in the way of any potential success you can achieve, and doing the work is the way to get there.

  11. You could also twist this around….”heroes” or mentors could also aim to treat their followers like peers…because in a sense, there is something to learn from everyone…

    I say “aim” because for the really popular, there is only so much attention you can give.

    1. Definitely.  Even after 14 years working as a Pastry Chef, I still found myself learning from ‘rookies’.  I’m a firm believer in staying open minded regardless of how much experience I have.  But, it’s true – you won’t have time to connect with so many.

      1. Hi Leo! I love this!

         This is kinda what I was getting at in my reply above, hopefully I didn’t repeat you and still added to the discussion.

        Great to meet someone on the same page! 🙂

  12. It’s a challenge for those who grew up in a culture of idolatry, isn’t it? Great article. This one will stick with me for awhile. 🙂

  13. This stings Denise as I’ve done that more than my fair share. I’ve seen those that are knocking it out of the park and setting them upon a pedestal. 

    But I’m coming to the realization that they’re just like you or I. People… But people who have put in the hard work and time. They’re just now reaping the success. 

    1. I’ve placed my share on pedestals, but realized that if you can’t see yourself as a peer, capable of the same success, then you hold yourself back from learning and achieving that.

  14. thanks for your perspective denise. really, really thought-provoking.

    not that long ago i came across a blog that i really connected with. i left a gushing comment (half-thinking she’d be my new bestie) and was so embarrassed later when i realized what i’d done on a whim. i was being very genuine, but i’m afraid i came across as… desperate. ugh. funny thing is, after reading that blog for a while i realized we don’t really “connect” like i originally thought. thinking of her as a bit of a hero not only led me to mildly humiliate myself, it also set her up to fail (in my mind) when she didn’t deliver material to the caliber i expected her to.

    i always feel awkward on the (rare) occasion that someone treats me like a hero, so why would i turn around and have that very same behavior toward someone else? (why-oh-why do i sometimes neglect common sense??! seriously.)

    thanks for the great reminder to be normal. i’m determined to stay normal. 🙂

    1. Nice 🙂  Determined to be normal! – what’s funny is that normal is AND isn’t the message I wanted to send.  What’s normal in this case is weird to the majority, but a valuable mindset to adapt to.  Too many people see limits in what they can achieve or who they can connect with or view as peers – so, acting ‘normal’ the way you and I might see it ends up being weird, and scarce… but, so rewarding.

  15. I think you’re way more likely to develop some kind of relationship- mentoring, or otherwise with a hero by giving honest feedback. I’ve gotten really interested in asking better questions- I think that a really poignant question can be more powerful than constructive feedback.

    1. Yes!  I, personally, love when I get feedback with a question – that can potentially push my thinking further and lead to a some interesting dialogue.

  16. Fabulous post, thank you. As you gain experience – it is hard for many people to transition from Fan to peer. It is natural to look up to sucessful people in your prefession and always think you will never be there yourself: But you can be there. Think back to being the student and looking up to the professor (many of us must have been there) and then becoming the person that students look up to: you get the idea. Students become peers. This is the one most people could relate to, in my opinion. 🙂

  17. This is something I’ve really been working on lately. It’s hard to give honest feedback to someone you admire, even when he/she asks for it as a friend. Thanks for these guidelines. They help. Another thing to remember is that our heroes are people, too. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do.


    1. Yes, it’s hard when you admire that person’s work.   I think – “how to give constructive criticism effectively” – could be an entirely separate post.  

      Ethan made a good point in his comment above about asking questions.  Asking the right questions is a great way to give feedback because it isn’t direct criticism.  It’s more of an invitation to explore alternative paths, perspectives, or solutions.

      That works really well in management/leadership roles.  For example, rather than directly tell an employee what they did wrong, a good leader asks questions, like… “how could you approach x differently so you can get y result?’… that keeps the employee in charge of their actions.

      In The Profession, Steven Pressfield said, “A good leader throws leadership back at you”…. I’d say being a good leader is similar to being a good peer, in that, you’re supporting that person to learn, grow, and succeed.  It’s a different kind of relationship than being BFF’s.   🙂

  18. This is so important – an issue many of us ignore or don’t know how to deal with. I’ve struggled with this for a long time – Rob Bell is somebody I really admire and respect and I’ve often acted merely as a fan, so I’ve been unable to move beyond that. But looking at his work as a peer actually has allowed me to learn more from him, and also understand his work better – and it’s helped my confidence as well.

    Thanks for this post. One we all need to read again and again. JP.

  19. Hi Denise,

    I can’t speak for everyone but I know that in the beginning when I’m just learning about someone or perhaps taking that time to get to know them and their work, I’m definitely a fan.  

    As I come to admire them and learn more about them I’ve even been able to actually build relationships with a lot of those people I held up on a pedestal.  I’ve learned that they are a lot like me so from that point on we’ve become not only friends but peers.

    I think it’s a process we have to go through but I agree that there comes a time when we have to step back and stop doing them a disservice.  Look at it this way, your relationship with them can benefit you as well.  They can help you with spreading the word about what you’re involved in just as much as you can help them.  I think that’s what a lot of us are aiming for.

    Thanks for sharing this with us and wonderful post.


    1. Thanks, Adrienne!

      I like how you described that process, and I’m sure you speak for most people when you say you start off as a fan.   

      That admiration is almost necessary, initially because it’s part of what makes you interested in learning more about that person and their work.  If you can move forward in that process, as you have, there are bigger rewards for both parties, as you mentioned.

    2.  Adrienne! Fancy meeting you here, you truly are an engagement superstar.

      I love how you describe this as a process, it takes the edgeoff the fan-mentality as a “bad thing” and paints it more as a “part of the journey” thing.

      Very awesome. Rock on and ryze up!

  20. Good stuff Denise!

    Up to about, oh, nine months ago I was the awe struck guy who put my heroes on a pedestal. I’m not sure what changed but now I view famous, important, and inspiring people as exactly what they are: just a human being.

    The key difference in interacting with people who have acquired personal or professional success is how much time you think they have for you. Most of us assume that people we look up to are ultra busy and wouldn’t have the time of day for us, even if they wanted to. Turns out (at least for me) that’s not so true and they are eager for genuine engagement just like the rest of us.


    1. Thanks, Joel.  I’ve seen that as well.  A genuine engagement is usually welcome, and I find that many people are busy, successful or not!  These days, learning how to communicate concisely and effectively is essential.

  21. One of my blogs is based on Christian music and I’ve learned over the years that even the more famous bands are just made up of people and I’ve had a lot more meaningful conversations with them talking about normal stuff and treating them as normal people than just slobbering over how great they are

    1. I love your use of the word “slobbering.” Very accurate description of how some people (even me at times) act when they meet someone famous.

  22. I think it’s easy to idolize our heroes even if we don’t mean to.

    You really challenged me with this post.   This part really spoke to me, “There is far more value in acting like a peer than as a fan, if you want your heroes to take you seriously.”
    I want to be part of my peers, not just a fan.  I want to build relationships.

    1. I hear ya.  There’s great value in building relationships, and like most things of value, it requires effort, consistency, and patience.  But, no matter what the result, I feel that you walk away a better person.

  23. This is so true. The value of an honest comment, to anyone, especially those who have tasted success, is priceless. A blind spot can cause even the most conscientious person to stumble. Even in small successes constructive criticism from someone honest that is there to help and encourage is always needed and beneficial. A huge part of liking someone’s work is accepting it for its faults and its successes. There is no such thing as perfection, but there is always room for greater honest and discovery in any work that follows the completion of a project. I think this is how art is supposed to work: feeding and building upon experience and self discovery of craft and perspective towards deeper and truer works. Flattery is bland and blind, but honest, though bittersweet, has much mroe sustenance to it.

    Great post. Too true. The world needs conscious followers who support their fellow writers, big and small, not drool all over them, in a good or bad way. 

  24. Jeff and Denise,  this is precisely the advice and guidelines on providing feedback on our writer friends’ blogs.  I have invited on Facebook all my blogging friends to provide honest feedback to my per your guidelines.  Extremely helpful post (and this is my honest opinion!)

  25. Really great article. Loved it. I also thought (as I was absorbing it) that this probably swings the other way too. That is, some people see themselves as celebrities and forget that they really are just people underneath all the hero worship.

  26. Very interesting advice. You really nailed it with a lot of the fan examples. Damn my fanny mind. Ha!

  27. I am a little older that you guys.  I may have lost a lot of the fan mentality somewhere between 35 and, my soon to be, 44.  We all put our pants on the same.

  28. Love this, Denise!

    “If you strip away the success and social proof, what’s left is a person who loves to write, paint, or create.”  Once you see this person as a fellow creator, you begin to believe in yourself. 

    I read once that Tom Selleck considers the young actors who star with him on Blue Bloods his peers, even though he is years ahead of most of them in experience and bodies of work.  I can just imagine the way they all must support and teach each other, when led by that attitude.

    If we aren’t honest and real with the people we can learn from, how will they discern how they can help us?  What value will any communication between us have?

    Thanks for this thought provoking post.

  29. This is a well-timed post. Love your honesty, and believe in equal treatment between friends, partners and peers.

     I am a bit of both, I follow loyally, if I feel the ‘creator’ of the work I admire is a human being first, I look for the humanity and the reality in everyone I meet or that crosses my path.   Being of the Baby Boomer generation helps too, but I can relate to all humans and animals, as nature is a good teacher.  Feeding my spiritual self first, then the human side is my aim. Please read my blog, as it says it all.

    Jeff I believe is an angel with a great message to share.  I see him as a human first, then as a teacher with very human failings which he shares because he cares,  and I love his message.

     Walking the talk is so important.  We all have a purpose and a message, we are all a mirror of what we believe. Find the human, then deal with the message they are here to give you.  Don’t confuse the two.  please read my  blog: http:/ and comment or twitter your thoughts, much appreciated, if you can.  Would appreciate your feedback, too, if you walk the talk.

  30. Thanks for this 2by4 shot to the head.  I was experiencing jealousy and the change your action was the dose I need to do  “Start doing what peers do, not what fans do.”  Peers work, paint, wirte, create.  Fans watch, adore, oogle, and wish….  Here’s to creating.  Cheers!

  31. Denise! Great to see you here at Goinswriter, and addressing such an incredible topic.

    What’s interesting for me is, I don’t really remember a time in my life when I “looked up” or “idolized” anyone.

    I was raised to believe I was “a king’s kid” and that I should act like one.

    I was raised to see everyone as my equal.

    I was raised to believe that the ‘meek shall inherit the earth’, and that the lowest shall become the highest, and to judge not lest I be judged.

    Yes, all this stuff is heavily biblical, but taking it out of context, it’s still pretty rock solid.


    I did allow many others to put me on a pedestal, which is the reverse of what you’re talking about.

    I had the opportunity to empower others, to withdraw my support from them and let them stand on their own. I had the opportunity to ‘kick them out of the nest’, but I “avoided the conflict”.

    What I’m saying is, of COURSE the fans are responsible for their own mindset, but a hero blessed with confidence, who knows he’s a hero, needs to get clear on what kind of “fans” (peers) he wants around him.

    So have I learned.

    Fantastic post for a fantastic site 😉 Glad I swung by 🙂

  32. Great piece, Denise! I have never understood the “fan” mentality. Celebs (or leaders in any field) are still just people. But then, pandering was never my thing. I love that you brought some attention to this. Can you imagine what would happen to the entertainment industry though if the whole world got this message? 

    1. Good point!  Wouldn’t be a bad thing, though.  Because I believe, we should still give respect where it’s due.  When peers reach levels of achievement that they work hard for or create something unique, beautiful, or brilliant – it’s certainly worth noting and praising.

  33. I know if I idolized an author (say Stephen King, for example) then actually met the man, I’d be too busy stumbling all over myself to say, “Hey, I love your writing,” to actually take advantage of the opportunity to listen, learn, and grow in the encounter.

    I ran into best-selling author Deb Macomber at a writers conference (where she happened to be the keynote speaker) and took the time to glean some excellent advice from her as we walked through a hotel lobby. She spoke to me as a more-experienced writer to one just learning the trade but, even in that, she treated me not as a fan but as a peer.

    Great piece of advice, Denise.

    1. Nice!  What a great experience 🙂  

      And, OK.. Stephen King would be tough.  I’m not going to act all nonchalant like that encounter wouldn’t phase me 🙂

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