when i was in high school, we had to pick and write about our personal heroes. it was a step in a larger process in understanding homer’s odyessy and the hero’s journey. we were sitting in class one day having a brain storming session and shouting out who we considered to be our heroes. one by one kids shouted out, “lance armstrong,” “mother teresa,” “martin luther king, jr.,” “anne frank,” “my (insert immediate family member here),” and yes, sometimes “hans solo.” when i was called on, i said, “billie jean king.” i had been playing tennis since i could remember, during the summers, after school, year round, went to regionals and nationals with my club team, and was playing competitively in high school. then my teacher asked me why. i knew that billie jean was a (multiple) grand slam winner, #1 woman’s tennis player in the world, and had been the first woman to beat a man in a fully professional setting, building the platform for gender equality. but that was it. i didn’t feel personally connected to her. i didn’t even want to be her. i simply saw her as one of the best in my world of interests and figured that meant i should look up to her. immediately after my teacher asked me to defend my “why,” i realized i didn’t have a personal hero. of course i loved and respected my (insert immediate family member here) but at that time i felt a void. in fact, for a while i didn’t feel like i even believed in heroes. it’s not that i was unmotivated, bitter, angry, or unrelatable. i think, like most teenagers, i just didn’t know who i was. i had goals; i was driven; i excelled in what i chose, but it was the who i wasn’t sure of. i knew i didn’t want to be a professional tennis player, so i wasn’t sure who that left to look up to.
i can’t say that i wake up every day knowing who i want to be, or to quote juno macguff, sometimes still “i don’t know what kind of girl i am.” but the difference from then to now is i’ve accepted that it’s ok. more importantly, i embrace it. i’ve since filled my hero bucket to the brim, and am always looking for more in every facet of life from artist to climber to mother to brother to random subway rider #2 to trail maintenance volunteer to first lady to that random guy who i sometimes see picking up trash. each are acting, saying, believing, teaching, seeing, or dreaming in a way that’s true to themselves. i look up to them, but i still don’t want to be them. i want to be like them, but with knobbier knees.
so hurray for heroes! over the course of the next year with my S4S challenge, i will be channeling my heroes in search of motivation, inspiration, and support. if you have any recommendations, i’d love to hear about your heroes, too. just be ready to defend the “why.”
(my high school senior quote, no joke. credit: curly girl cards. you can find them at every adorable coffee/gift/random-things-you-like-but-never-actually-need shop.)
p.s. for the record, i still admire billie jean king. she is one of the most important female athletes of all time, a legend. she didn’t have to grunt to win a match (maria sharipova, i hate you) and she beat bobby riggs fair and square wearing a skirt all along the way. although i never had any desire to beat boys on the tennis court, her strength and example has pushed me up many-a-mountain, leaving strong, long-legged boys in my dust. billie jean, here’s to you.