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Everyone Knows a Hero I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours

Who’s that person in your life that inspired you to think of others before (or at least in addition to) yourself? Did they lead by example? Who looked out for you in a surprising way?

I’ve always been able to rely on family. We’re not perfect, but we’re pretty darn great. I know not everyone gets to have that security – and it can be incredibly painful when family lets you down. Because that’s about the least amount of social evolution you can have – so it’s a travesty to neglect looking out for one’s children, siblings, parents.

Of course these relationships are predicated on the same trust that any relationship is built upon. When people don’t earn that trust it doesn’t matter if they’re closely related. They need to be held accountable to provide the same social care we expect from the Hero Minded. They should lose a bond (partially or wholly) if they’re a selfish Villain, focused solely on their own needs and survival. We don’t trust or connect with people who are so fixated on their own interests.

I went through a tough time a few years ago. The economy was limping back from its major tumble and  I worked in an industry that was hit first, hit hard and recovered next to last. My meager retirement was quickly eaten away, I maxed out my credit and was to the point where I was budgeting for and rationing toilet paper. After making really comfortable money and always being in demand, this was quite a shock to my system.

The bigger adjustment was about what was going on inside me. I was still fiercely independent. And here I was, asking to borrow money several times from my parents and owing money to friends. I felt like defeated and not at all like myself. I was exhausted from juggling what I was going to have to pay next – not knowing how I was going to make that happen. I knew eventually my parents would say no if I had to borrow money too many times.

But here I was, shoved into the position where I had to ask again.

A few minutes after walking in the door my mom said to me that before they’d give me the money, they’d agreed that my dad was going to talk to me. To myself I thought “Okay, this is the talk. The money cut-off. As expected.”

My dad said that they’d only give me the money on one condition. “Yep,” I thought. “Here it goes.” He said it could not be considered a loan and that I’d have to just accept it as payment for the web design work I did for them.

See, I refused to take money for the work I did for them for a long time. They are my family. I can do that for them – so I should do that for them – they’re family. That’s how it works in the giving economy. I needed the money, so I couldn’t refuse it or his terms (but secretly I planned to pay it back anyway – even if I had to use trickery to get them to accept it). By the way, that’s how my family rolls. My grandmother was queen of insisting on paying for dinner to the point that her and her sons would be throwing money across the restaurant table at each other. Sometimes the money-throwing festivities traveled all the way into the parking lot. Last minute goodbyes were said through windows and then money would be thrown in the window as the thrower ran away.

This is the generous and giving economy I grew up in. Our identities are infused with it.

And now I was having to receive. Forced into it. It felt wrong. I had to let go of my ego that always told me I could do it myself. I went through the mental anguish of not being in a position to financially help charities and friends I cared about. I discovered what a huge part of my identity was wrapped up in being able to do that. I felt helpless.

Someday, I thought. Someday I’ll be able to do that again.

Bit by bit, as I slid further into my financial crisis, I learned that allowing others to help me was a lesson I needed to learn. I needed to see life from that side. And I needed to let go of that part of my identity, even when my ship got righted again.

If my ship ever gets righted again,” I thought.

I hadn’t quite learned the lesson when I went over to my brother’s house for dinner during a particularly down time. I never refused a meal during those times, because it was practical (one more meal I don’t have to buy – and it doesn’t cost them too much to make a little extra for me). That kind of receiving also felt social – hey, we’re having dinner together – I don’t have to think about how much I need this. It made receiving possible and tolerable. My brother knew how stubborn I was about overtly receiving, so as I was leaving (in my car and pulling away), he ran out to my car, banged on my window holding two bags of groceries. He snuck up on me and I couldn’t say no, mostly out of shock and surprise. I cried all the way home. Both because I had to acknowledge that I was down to needing groceries and because he was so very, very thoughtful. Including knowing the shame I had around my circumstance. So he made it as small of a deal as possible.

Our dad died suddenly two years ago and we’re still reeling in the shock of it. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He’s always on our minds, but especially on days like that, which will also mark the two year anniversary of when we spread his ashes in the sea. One of the most precious objects he left behind is a piece of paper where he wrote what the current week’s lottery prize at the top – and then a sort of written spreadsheet – outlining the people he was going to give the money to if he won. That was his fantasy. Taking something for himself – but giving most of it away. That’s what he methodically planned with his fantasy winnings. How he was going to make other people’s lives better.

This is who he was. These stories (and hundreds of others) are how Hero Minded was modeled for me in my family.

Who modeled Hero Minded for you? I’d love to hear your story. Write me while you’re still thinking about them or comment below.

P.S. My financial picture is a-okay now. I have some amazing clients that are part of my generous, giving economy and it’s my great pleasure to work with them.

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