Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible just hanging out.

Everyone’s a hero in his own way

Two-minute read

You’ve watched the scene a million times on TV or in movies.

Two characters with differing opinions get into an argument, and one of them, through the power of their words, changes the other’s mind. Maybe we like that so much because it so rarely happens in real life.

Both parties tend to leave thinking they were right. And stay that way.

That’s something I’ve been thinking about every since I saw Jeffrey Zeldman’s opening keynote at An Event Apart Boston on Monday. His speech was framed as “advice to up-and-coming” designers, but it worked for an mid-career old(ish) guy like me.

His struggles to break into advertising and design sounded much like my own time moving up the chain from newspaper to newspaper. But what resonated most with me was his recounting of times when he was fired.

Every villain is the hero of his own story, the saying goes. But one of the best realizations one can have in career and life is that sometimes you are the bad guy not the hero.

But Zeldman’s the guy behind Happy Cog who advanced such important ideas a web standards and responsive design. How could anyone have ever seen him as anything other than brilliant?

Life is often unfair or just treats us poorly, sure, but many times we make our own unfairness.

You may have been wronged, but often as not you actually deserved to be passed over for promotion or fired. Your boss wasn’t being unreasonable.

Sometimes it’s just small stuff that makes us the bad guy. That guy or woman on your team at work who annoys you? Yeah, you annoy someone else just as much.

One of the very best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was delivered in a drunken night out. My friend and I were on our third – or fourth … or fifth, maybe – beer and I was once again bemoaning my lot in life and lack of career advancement and generally wallowing in alcohol-induced self pity.

Finally, he said “The problem is you.”

Maybe these are things we can only appreciated at a distance, after the soft fog of nostalgia has settled over the scenes of our lives and we’ve lost the young-person’s need prove ourselves.

Or maybe that we get to the point where humility just seems the better option. That’s a topic to mull at another time.