March 24, 2017

How I Learned to be my own Hero.


During his acceptance speech at the Oscars in 2014, Matthew McConaughey shared an interesting story:

He spoke of how, when he was 15 years old, he was asked who his hero was.

After requesting a few days off think about it, he told the person that it was his future self, 10 years from that time.

Of course, Matthew then said that when he turned 25, the same person asked him again if he was indeed the hero his 15-year-old self would have looked up to. He told her that he was nowhere close to being that, but added that he now felt it was his future 35-year-old self that would be it.

To me, the point Matthew was trying to make was that while many of us do have heroes and mentors in our lives whom we do look up to, what is more important is that we look at our own lives for inspiration.

We should view our own future with a deep sense of excitement about what could be. We should move forward with a surge of curiosity, wondering where we could end up by the time we reach a certain age.

Deeper still, I also believe that Matthew was calling out to each of us, encouraging us to remember points in our own lives of when we overcame the odds, and use those memories to motivate and propel us forward, with a renewed sense of vigor and zeal in order to achieve our dreams.

For myself, among the many milestones I have crossed in my life, I have one that still serves me to this day.

Long before I discovered the “Rocky” film series, or even saw the classic awe-inspiring celluloid production of “Chariots of Fire,” I was in a situation during my youth that was, in many ways, to both of those classic tales. 

I was 12 years old at the time, and studying at a prestigious international school in southern India. Being one of the smallest, scrawniest, and oddly behaved kids in class, it is perhaps no surprise that I was often picked on, and at times, ostracized from the main “cool group” of students.

I had friends, sure, but I always felt that I was at odds with most children my age. I did not fit in, and never seemed to get the code of behavior that others seemed to instinctively know. Academically, I excelled in art, English, and extracurricular activities, though math, French, and science were a bit of challenge.

But rather than help, a few teachers relished rebuking me in class as well as reminding my parents at every parent-teacher meeting just how hopeless I was as a human being. Much credit goes to my folks, as they were both supportive and tried to encourage me to push myself to overcome these challenges.

In spite of all of this, I had a passion to keep moving forward, and it gave me a great sense of joy. One of my passions was running. Any opportunity I got, I would take off into the pear orchards surrounding our home in the hills. During gym class, I would use my “need for speed” to my advantage during soccer, hockey, and softball.

As the year progressed, I learnt of an annual event that would be taking place in the second semester—the “Annual Sports Day.”

The entire school would be present to watch the participants compete. One particular race excited me the most–the “Cross Country.” I discovered that whoever won that race ended up being a popular kid in school. Naturally, I wanted to be that guy. As race day got closer, the whole school was abuzz. Students and teachers were placing their bets on who would win the different events or set new records.

When the subject arose of who was most likely to win the cross country race, most people pointed to the class favorite—not me.

I remember, on one particular day, someone asked who else was planning to take part, and I immediately raised my hand. This was followed by a roar of laughter across the room with a few guys pushing me about and telling me not to act so stupid.

As the jeering continued, I felt something deep within me that I had never felt before in my life—a desire to prove myself.

That night, I was pretty bummed out, and instead of catching up on my usual episode of “The Simpsons,” I was in my room just staring at a lamp. My dad came in, put his arms around me, and asked me what was wrong. After a bit of persuasion, I told him. I explained why I wanted to win so badly, as it would mean reversing the tide of disrespect and gaining the fame I wanted to have so much.

Patiently, he sat still and he heard me out. After a few minutes, he told me that if I wanted to win and prove myself he would help me, but if it was only for fame then he would not. I felt dumbstruck. What was wrong with fame?

He then told me that winning in life meant being better than who you were yesterday. It meant working hard and developing a clear focus of where you were going. He also added that the race had already begun. The training we would do would also consist of him teaching me how to believe in myself, so that I could handle whatever outcome occurred. To my dad, this was as important as the actual race itself.

But even more importantly, my dad told me not to compare myself to anyone. I just had to strive to be my best self yet. He also added that fame and success run away when you chase them, but pursuing a goal with a clear cut plan and dedication, made those two characters run after you instead.

I thought about what he said and shook his hand as a sign that I agreed with him. With just a week to go, he helped show me how to run better and sat with me to demonstrate how professional athletes performed on several ESPN and Star Sports programs. The training felt a bit tough, but I followed all he said to the letter.

On race day, my dad gave me one last bit of advice, “Let people underestimate you, but stay the course and trust your instincts.”  

I smiled and he hugged me, and then sent me off to the starting line. I stood there with about 20 other boys and kept my focus on the track ahead. As the starting gun sounded, I felt a great strain come over me and wondered, What if I did not make it? 

But from somewhere deep within, I could feel my heart pull away the fear and replace it with a warm feeling of passion. Why was I here? I asked myself. To prove that I can do this, I heard my heart reply.

With that, I lurched forward and swiftly placed myself behind my main opponent. I could hear Dad’s words working in my head, “Because he is ahead he will get tired quicker.” 

As we entered the final stretch around the lake, we approached a steep incline. I will never forget those moments for as long as I live. Time slowed down, and just like in the movies I could hear my own heartbeat and see everyone move in slow motion. I could also hear all of the naysayers speaking in my mind. As we entered the field, near the edge of the track lanes, I saw my Dad. I am not sure to this day how our eyes met, but I saw him move his hand down and tell me to go for it.

Think of it as a scene almost like the one in the “Lion King” with Mufasa’s ghost telling Simba to remember who he is. Immediately, my thoughts disappeared and I lunged forward. I felt this surge of energy and heard a host of voices explode around me. I ran like I never ran before. I covered the remaining laps pretty quick, and as I reached the finish line firstI realized then that when I pursued my goal without giving into any distractions, success and fame followed me to the end.

That single race was a major turning point in my life. Since then, whenever I have felt challenged or bogged down by adversity, I remember it. Those memories have gotten me through some of the toughest times in my life.

Coming to the present, as I am about to become a father, I aim to use all those lessons my dad taught me and hopefully inspire my future child to chase her or his dreams and know that nothing is impossible and nothing is beyond their reach, even if the world says so.

But more importantly, I want her or him to know why it is crucial to run their own race in life and always work to positively shape and transform their relationship with themselves. By doing so, they will become their own hero, and their own person, which will allow them to soar higher than they thought possible.

As Matthew McConaughey so eloquently said in the final line of his speech:

“So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing. To that I say: Amen. To that I say, All right, all right, all right. To that I say, just keep living, eh? Thank you.”

Go ahead, be your own hero.


Author: Rohan Moorthy

Image: Clifton/ Flickr

Editor: Deb Jarrett


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