I find myself reflecting today on one of my favorite quotes about heroes. But it’s a bit of a pesky quote, in part because I can’t seem to figure out who originally said it. It seems to have been originally written by GK Chesterton, the joyful (and occasionally pompous) British author with a knack for great one-liners (and even better books). But the quote was made popular by David Ogilvy, the real-life person who inspired the character of Don Draper in Mad Men. It was one of his maxims for life, and it goes something like this:
“Search all the parks in all the cities, you’ll find no statues of committees.”
I’ve written before (and can frequently be found talking about) the importance that allies make in every quest. In fact, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to name a single hero who so much as made it out the front door without the help of a friend or two. Friends, allies, and accomplices are a vital part of a hero’s journey—and yet if allies are so important, why is it that heroes always have a way of losing them? Why is it that at several key moments of every great story, the hero always finds themselves alone?
As a mentor, I’ve found myself in that position multiple times: watching a hero face what feels like an impossible task, and knowing that I cannot help them. And often when you look at the people who surround the hero of a story, the hero is the least-heroic of the bunch. Frodo certainly seems the least intimidating of the entire Fellowship of the Ring. Harry Potter isn’t half the wizard Dumbledore is—or even half the wizard Hermione is! And yet at critical junctions, the hero’s greatest gift seems to be finding some way to pawn off their entire party, somehow finding a way to isolate themselves without fail.
That’s because at their core, stories aren’t about external change. They really have very little to do with slaying dragons or destroying rings, dueling wizards or finding lost treasure. Those things are, for lack of a better term, an afterthought. An inevitable result of something else entirely. In the great stories, the external forces of good vs evil become a canvas—a canvas for an often timid, often weak, and always ordinary person to make an extraordinary choice: to do a something, a reckless something, an unexpected something, a quite-often-foolish something. To become a hero.
So search all your parks, all your cities. Search your books and movies, your favorite shows and novels. You’ll find no monuments to thought out, careful deliberation of the super qualified. No great stories of how a specifically curated group of people who were perfectly matched to the task worked efficiently to overcome it. You’ll find no statues of committees.
What you’ll find instead is something wonderful—statues and monuments of all shapes and sizes, of ordinary people from the least expected places choosing to do something both foolish and extraordinary: something heroic. Something they were likely unqualified for, something that likely scared them, and something truly worth remembering. Something worth making a statue over.
May the Road Rise Up to Meet You!