A favorite question to pose little children is who their heroes are. The answers are often similar - firemen, mom, police officers, ballet dancers, astronaut, nurses. And they will often surround themselves with symbols of that hero - astronaut bedsheets, fireman rain boots, or pictures of little ballerinas all over the room. Children envelop themselves in the world of their heroes, because it's one way that they learn about the world and their values. Unfortunately, as we grow up, we think that we don't need heroes. They go away as we become surer of who we are and develop self-reliance, like imaginary friends.
I'd like to argue that heroes are extremely important, no matter our age. Although we find confidence in who we are as we grow older, the ability to grow never goes away. Jung referred to this as individuation, a concept which states that even though we may never reach our "ideal," we should always be striving for it. Heroes help us do that. Heroes are people that we would like to emulate, or help us define our ideals and goals. They are symbols of who we would like to be, the qualities we would like to have, and the dreams we want to pursue.
Different from our childhood heroes, the heroes of an adult will be less generalized and more focused. And they will vary. On a personal level, I have several heroes for a variety of reasons - their kindness, generosity or positive energy. Professionally, my ultimate hero is a combination of three very different women: Sheryl Sandberg. Tina Fey. Beyonce.
I can tell you right now that they are not my heroes for any obvious reason. Before joining Google and Facebook, Sandberg worked for the Treasury Department earned her MBA from Harvard. The idea of working at the Treasury Department terrifies me. I adore Fey's humour and sharp wit, but I'm not funny (at least not intentionally), and I'm the worst at telling jokes. And although I can carry a tune, I'm no Sasha Fierce.
So what do these three women have in common? And what is it about them that is inspirational?
They're all strong, confident, ambitious women who are unashamed of their success. In fact, they embrace it. And they encourage other women to dream, to think big, and to apologetically reach for their own stars. They are in control of their careers, and know exactly what they want (and aren't afraid to go after it).
Beyonce is known for her crazy work ethic, relentless determination and a creativity that is laser focused. Fey is unabashedly feminist, which was clear in her Saturday Night Live skits during the 2008 presidential campaign. And Sandberg is famous for her unflinching advocacy of women's advancement in the workplace. Her TED Talk and commencement speech at Barnard are well-known, and she hosts leadership development workshops for female employees of Facebook. Sandberg has published a new book called Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. (I pre-purchased it on my Kindle yesterday, and am eagerly looking forward to reading it when it's released next week.)
What about you? Who are your heroes?
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