You’re my hero… no, really, you are

You may not be faster than a speeding bullet. You probably can't jump tall buildings in a single bound. You are however more super than Superman, more wonderful than Wonderwoman and more incredible than the Hulk!

When I was a kid, collecting footy cards was way cool (not quite as cool as fireworks or BMX, but pretty damn cool). All these glossy portraits of our heroes were stacked up, wrapped in shiny foil and sold cheaply with a stick of gum. Underneath the headshots of men with broken noses and cauliflower ears were all the vital statistics, which would aid us in our hero worship and help settle arguments over who was the best.

Fast forward a few decades and I still enjoy seeing big blokes smack into each other with more concern for a ball than their own health… but, I’m long past regarding them as heroes. In fact, I’m far more likely to be impressed by the person working behind the till, selling footy cards, than I am by some star who possesses a good sidestep and a million-dollar contract.

Let’s imagine for a second that instead of footy cards, they had everyday hero cards. For a little inspiration you could rip open a little foil packet, chew on some cheap flavourless gum and marvel at all the regular people who surround you.

On the first card is Prisha. She’s not a halfback, a fullback or anything like that. Her position is student/checkout operator. Scrolling through the stats, you will find that Prisha was incredibly nice to 12,847 customers last year. She also completed 10 university subjects in a second language, whilst dealing with homesickness, loneliness and periods of anxiety. No one stopped long enough at the checkout to find out about any of that though.

On the second card is Matt. Matt is a mechanic and new dad. In the past year he has performed 480 oil changes, 870 nappy changes, made 12 frighteningly large mortgage payments, 3 really scary trips to the emergency room and supported his partner Jane through post-natal depression. He says he is just doing what anyone would do though.

On the third card is Alice. Alice runs an accounting practice and is also a carer. She has prepared 508 BAS statements and 220 tax returns. She has also spent at least 2 hours every day looking after her vision impaired mother, so she can continue to live at home. Alice has managed all this while dealing with fatigue issues and extended periods of low mood. She’s not one to complain though.

Now imagine you had your own card. What would it say? Chances are you’ve been dealing with more than most people realise. Often work is just part of the story. Perhaps over the past twelve months you’ve dealt with some dramatic life events, experienced a mental health issue or had to support someone going through a very difficult time.

Chances are you’ve dealt with all sorts of big stuff, while still dealing with lots of little stuff. Maybe you’ve taken out the bin 300 times. Perhaps you’ve done 200 loads of washing, prepared 700 meals and unstacked the dishwasher every friggin’ day. When was all that stuff celebrated?

Maybe you made a super-stressful drive in heavy peak hour traffic to pick your kid up before the child care centre closed. Did you get presented with a laurel wreath and a magnum of champagne like a Formula One driver? No! You probably just got a scowl for being one minute late and then had to listen to the bloody Wiggles for the rest of the way home.

Let me tell you right now, you are a far bigger hero than Daniel Riccardo!

You really don’t need to look to sports stars or celebrities for inspiration. You and the people around you are already doing it – just without the glamour, the adulation and all the Photoshopping that they reserve for sport stars, celebrities and models.

Unfortunately, the ideals we are asked to aspire to can be horribly dispiriting and can make us feel like we are failing in the game of life.

Yesterday, on the way to the library, I walked past a billboard. On this billboard with a picture of a model on a fancy yacht, surrounded by crystal blue tropical waters. She had a perfect body, flawless skin, a designer swimsuit and flowers in her silky hair. When I walked inside the daggy suburban public library I saw a very different picture. A clearly sleep deprived mother was bathed in unforgiving fluorescent light and surrounded by bad carpet. She looked like she was wearing the t-shirt she slept in and she still had a tiny bit of baby vomit in her uncombed hair.

I’m guessing when that tired mum walked past the billboard, she might have felt a little dispirited. It’s likely she couldn’t afford a superyacht. She probably didn’t have much time to loll about sunbaking. With her post-baby body, she may not have rocked than bikini quite as well as a Photoshopped 20-year-old model. That mum wasn’t failing however – she was doing what matters most. While the model was helping flog luxury goods, the mother had a much more important priority. She deserved adulation, celebration and her own everyday hero card (with the baby sick thoughtfully Photoshopped out of her hair).

Unfortunately, even the simplest of comparisons can set you up to make you feel like you are failing. The other day I decided to cook one of Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute meals. I spent 10 minutes driving to the shops, 7 minutes circling the carpark and 3 minutes walking back to the car after I forgot the reusable bags. I then spent 10 minutes wandering the aisles (I still completely forgot two ingredients, but discovered a half price special on crumpets) before waiting in line 3 minutes for Prisha to scan my groceries (she was very efficient, completely lovely and courteous as usual). I then drove 10 minutes home, spent another 10 minutes unpacking the dishwasher, 22 minutes making the 15-minute meal and then what seemed like forever cleaning up (why do they never show that bit on the TV?). My 15-minute meal had taken about 2 hours, which made me feel less than lovely-jubbly. Instead I felt exhausted, defeated and a bit useless.

In that moment I tried to replace self-criticism with self-compassion and give myself a break. Sure, I couldn’t chop things as fast as a famous TV chef, but at least I didn’t chop off the end of my thumb (this time). Sure, I forgot some key ingredients, but I’d had a long day and it’s easy to get distracted by half-price crumpets. Sure, my meal didn’t look as fabulous as Mr Oliver’s, but I did mine without a crew of full-time food stylists. In the end I managed to provide a meal for my loved ones. I did okay.

Often, when we think we are failing, we are actually doing pretty well, given the circumstances. We may never live up to impossible ideals, but if we concentrate on our values, we can succeed in doing the things that matter most.

My heroes don’t have superyachts, rock hard abs or glamorous careers in the media. They are far more likely to have large piles of washing, little bits of baby sick in their hair and a whole variety of other messy human stuff going on. They’re doing what’s important and they’re doing their best.

If you are one of those people, you really are my hero.

As for my former footy card heroes, they’re now starring in horrible ads for Lowes.