Letter 003: Are You Actually a Hero?
It seems we’ve made a major mistake in your training—it’s my fault. I assumed too much, but even so, I was shocked that so many of you don’t understand what really makes a hero. I know, because many of you have started to question whether you are a hero—as if that wasn’t part of the gig!
I’ve been a mentor long enough to see the transformation, time after time. And I know your favorite heroes are quite impressive. They have capes and swords and wands and happily ever afters. But all the trappings have nothing to do with what really makes them a hero—let me explain.
Every great story is about an ordinary person thrust into an extraordinary world. And while the hero always end up becoming someone extraordinary, they begin the story as the most ordinary person imaginable. Take Bilbo from The Hobbit—an ordinary hobbit who loves his comfortable life, asked on an extraordinary adventure. When Bilbo finds the ring, what power does it give him? That no one can see him. His special power is literally being so uninteresting no one notices him—which lets him defeat Smaug and return the dwarves to the mountain.
Or take Harry Potter and his friends Hermione and Ron. They’re all sorted into Gryffindor, the house for those who value bravery above all else. But Harry is plagued with doubts—he wins not with strength but with cunning, is always breaking the rules, and always getting himself into crazy situations. In other words, he’s the quintessential Slytherin. And then there’s Hermione—the smartest witch in the all the school, the perfect Ravenclaw. And Ron—loyal, hard working, but not that smart or talented—the exact definition of a Hufflepuff.
So how is it all three end up in Gryffindor? Because who you are isn’t what makes you a hero. The mentor Dumbldore has wise words for Harry when he questions whether he really is a Gryffindor—he tells him, of course you would be a great a Slytherin! “But it is our choices, not our attributes, that define who we are.” Harry is a Gryffindor not just by nature of who he is, but by nature of the fact that choosing to be in Gryffindor is an act of bravery. By nature of his choices, not his attributes.
It’s not the superpowers or magic or special shirt of mithril that makes the hero: it’s the choice. Your choice. Your choice to set out from the ordinary into a new, extraordinary world, full of friends and foes, the great, beautiful, terrifying unknown. A choice that you’ve already made.
So rest easy, hero. You’ll need it for the challenges to come. But never forget: it is your choices, not your attributes that most clearly define who you are.
May the road rise up to meet you!