Several weeks ago, while eating lunch with some friends from work, a coworker I had never met walked into the restaurant. To tell me who he was, my friends told me a story: He’s the go-to guy when you need a design finished. Many years ago, there was a design that no one was able to get to get to work and we were desperate. We gave it to him on Friday, and it was ready to go on Monday.
That one weekend of work made him a modern-day dragon slayer – his own personal lore. He exemplified the classic heroic tale: the protagonist starts as being good but then through one act of bravery or wit or simply shear will he overcomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Once this happens, the story sticks with him for the rest of his life. We used to define heroes by the dragons they slew, now by the feats they’ve accomplished. Obtaining that reputation gains us credibility even when we make mistakes in the future.
We might be tempted to try to invent the situation or create our own story, but we can’t. These stores come like nicknames, not out of intent but as a product of preparation and opportunity. They come when we do what is most natural to us because it’s who we are. Heroes don’t decide to be heroic in the moment, they were heroic to begin with.
So instead we should think about how we want to be characterized and work toward what is important to us. We are all capable of the heroic. How we live will define our own personal lore.
Dragon Credit: balt-arts
I once had a defining moment like that in the Army. In June 1987, right before I was being transferred, a major Chemical Corps Inspector General Finding came down. I spent 72 hours over a weekend with virtually no sleep answering all of the 30 some critical findings on Chemical and Biological Defense Training problems with solutions. To me and my superiors, it was an amazing feat (fortunately, it was not the first of the situations where I was able to shine, which was why I was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for my work at TRADOC Headquarters), which soon lost all but personal significance by my changing posts and branch assignments to attend the Systems Automation Officer Course and a year and a half later leaving the Army. In today’s transient employment world, your co-worker’s day in the sun as a dragon slayer only lasts as long as he stays with the company, then is soon forgotten as a new ‘King of the Lab’ (as they say on the BONES TV show) is crowned.