The goal of the heroic life is to help people do big things and live a meaningful life. This sense of meaning is one of our scarcest resources—but it shouldn’t be. In many ways, the heroic life is simply a collaborative way to answer the question, “how do I do things that matter?”
As the site expands, I hope we’ll get essays with many answers to this. For now, I want to offer a simple groundwork that can be adapted no matter what your background, goals or dreams. It rests on four simple principles.
The Four Principles of a Heroic Life
1. Choose a purpose.
I used to say, “choose a purpose in life.” But most of us don’t have a single life purpose. We change.
It’s okay to focus everything on writing a novel, and then decide to pursue something else. It’s also okay if you devote 20 years to parenting, then find a purpose independent of your child—or to change careers or industries.
What matters most, from the perspective of living a meaningful life, is to identify something you care about, and work at it.
2. If you don’t know your purpose, experiment.
Most people aren’t blessed with a laser-focused “purpose.” We wander, and we have to discover the things that we’re best at—or the things we care most about. Luckily, there are practices you can use to help make this wandering pay off.
For many people, the first thing I recommend is travel. Traveling forces you to stand out, see yourself differently, and encounter lots of new ideas and personalities—the perfect alchemy for hitting upon your purpose. But travel isn’t right for everyone, and it’s not the only way. There are many other “immersive” experiences that work just as well.
Immersive experiences are those that put you very deep into the unfamiliar, somewhere outside of your comfort zone. This could mean an intensive language-learning program, a spiritual retreat, an apprenticeship or internship, a new job or simply starting from scratch with a brand new art or sport.
Any practice that forces you to push your boundaries will also help you find a sense of purpose.
3. Live by your ideals.
Most people live by rules. The rules tell us what we can and cannot do, and anything that follows the rules is okay. Anything that breaks the rules is not okay.
I’m not against rules. Rules are important—but they aren’t perfect.
To do the extraordinary, you need to have your own inner compass of what’s right and what isn’t. It won’t always align with the official rules, either because those rules are outdated or because they have blind spots. But your compass will help you stand up for something more than just the-way-things-are. It will also help you feel a sense of inner rectitude about the decisions you make in your life.
This compass is based on your ideals.
Your ideals can be anything you want. They could be peace, bravery, honesty, authenticity, caring for others, being accepting or simply staying open to new ideas. Your ideals should change over time, and be open to challenge—but only you can decide what you personally stand for.
4. Take little steps toward extraordinary things.
We all know the extraordinary when we see it.
When it’s someone in action, like a master sword fighter, it looks almost supernatural. How can a human being move like that?
When it’s a creation, like the world’s best coconut cake, experiencing it is almost unreal. Where did this come from? How can it be this good?
Doing the extraordinary may seem impossible, but it isn’t. It’s the end result of hours and hours, years and years of sacrifice—and hard work. When a person commits themselves to a purpose and works on it every day, they begin to achieve more than those around them. Then, their confidence spreads to the rest of their life. That’s when you become an uplifting force to the people around you, and you start to shine. This is true even if you practice your art in obscurity. You don’t have to be rich and famous to do the extraordinary. (But you can rest assured that people will notice what you’re doing.)
Doing the extraordinary is just thousands of small steps that lead to a single purpose. Do one thing toward your purpose every day, and you will achieve things you never thought you could do.
The Fifth Principle
To these, I would add a fifth step that unites all of the above:
Learn about heroism.
Ask what heroism is. Look at the heroes you yourself believe in—both your moral heroes, and those who inspire you in your own discipline. Ask yourself, what do they all have in common?
In their life stories you’ll find many lessons, some that match the principles above, and others you could never learn anywhere else. What did your heroes do, that got them to the point of being an inspiration?
Start Practicing Today
I often say that, unlike in the movies, real heroes never get a call to adventure. No wizard will come knocking on your door, no radioactive spider will bite you. But here I’d like to prove myself wrong:
This is your call to adventure.
Choose your ideals. Think about your purpose. Identify a simple first step to move one inch closer to being as extraordinary as the heroes who inspire you.
And, if you’re still not sure what that purpose is, try one of these steps:
- Go for a walk (or a run)
- Talk to a stranger
- Sign up for a class
- Reach out to an old friend
- Work out
- Take a short weekend trip
- Spend some time alone
- Practice an art you haven’t practiced in a long time
- Write yourself a letter
- Ask five friends what they think you’re best at
None of the steps above will open the clouds and send down your purpose on a ray of light. No force in the world can do that. But each of these steps helps you have a new experience, see yourself differently, or “wander” a little in your own life. And each step can help you realize what you should really be doing.
And, if you want to be part of a community, join us on Facebook. If you’d like to contribute ideas of your own, this site will soon accept submissions—stay tuned!
Welcome to the heroic life.
—Andre Sólo, editor, Heroism Today