Given our recent celebration of Memorial Day honoring the many men and women who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy in America, it got me thinking of all the many heroes and heroines who have affected each of our lives.

Let’s face it: people have always created or looked for heroes to give us inspiration, support or even hope. Think about when we were growing up, who were our fictional heroes? Superman, Nancy Drew, Popeye, and even The Tortoise in Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare . We learned early to identify characters that set an example for us to follow. Some things don’t change. We still are looking for heroes – especially when so many of the more likely candidates disappoint us.

My question for you to consider is this: what about the heroes in our own backyards? Why is the media the primary source for those heroic figures? What about the ones that go virtually unnoticed by the public at large? You know who I am talking out:

  • the neighbor that does the heavy lifting to keep up the neighborhood when no one else seems to have the time;
  • the private sector manager that leaves a big corporate job to do a less-paying, less-visible, non-profit job because they are called to make a difference;
  • the nurse in the burn unit that holds the hand of those enduring painful treatments incomprehensible to most of us, or even…
  • the women who sees a line of military personnel walking through the airport and starts an impromptu standing ovation which lasts over 15 minutes and inspires the entire terminal of people to join in the applause as the soldiers return home to America.

As we grow older, life gets tougher. That is a fact. A parent or a friend’s parent gets sick, our child hits a road bump in life, recessionary realities compromise planned retirement, or a friend gets an unexpected diagnosis. Life is tough. We are the adults, now. We seek heroes in these day to day challenges. Those that ‘rise up, rise above the occasion, take the high road’ – or my favorite: “Rise up on their hind legs” (this is the phrase my mom saved for those occasions when a person needs to stand up for themselves or for a cause for which they are passionate – in a ‘lion’ sort of way). Personally, I am inspired by those heroes that ‘rise up’ and do so in a way that is strong and convicted.

What can we learn from these heroic examples?

They Focus.

Heroes live with unrelenting focus on what they want and what they really want to do. They FOCUS on this – the rest is just noise.

They Work Hard.

They work hard and use their talents to the best of their ability, regardless of the hardships surrounding the situation.

They stay committed and firm.

All of us get tired on occasion. Our resiliency is tested. However, what I know for sure is this: if we stop or even slow down, we don’t stand a chance of reaching our goals. If we keep pushing and working hard – we do. It is as simple as that. We are a product of our focused, committed efforts. Only we will create our ‘end game.’

Real heroes don’t give up.

What I also have observed, is that diligence is contagious. Haven’t you ever noticed when someone falls down – physically or figuratively – and when they pick themselves up, how others immediately start to pull for them? Those examples are numerous! Think of your favorite sports team, the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ contestant you were following, the Olympic athlete who struggled in the preliminaries … we love to root for those that don’t give up and succeed even with obstacles.

So what is the ‘net’ take away?

I can sum it up with two parting thoughts: Keep going whatever it takes (we don’t know who may be looking at us as ‘their’ hero). Focus, work hard, and keep the faith. AND, I will also add, find others that believe in you. Find those that will always believe you can do whatever you want to do and keep them close. This support system is critical.

Many of the heroes in my life are not those that do ‘everything right’ by societal standards or norms. Nor have they excessively succeeded by the world’s monetary or positional metrics or standards. Many of my heroes are truly unexpected. They are those that teach me through their failures, their losses, and, most importantly, their ‘Phoenix rising’ through their most difficult times. They are the single moms, the cancer survivors, the unemployed, the passed over or the late bloomers. They are the 65 year old first time published writer, the 72 year old graduate of college, the 14 year old cancer patient at the Ronald McDonald house, and the 90 year old widow flying to London for the first time. Neither age nor time makes a difference.

In challenging times, we crave the company of ordinary heroes. The reality is they are among us and we truly don’t have to look that far. We don’t have to wait for the media to crown our next extraordinary person the new ‘idol.’ Look around. Celebrate talent. Recognize and root for strength and perseverance. Appreciate backbone and courage against unlikely odds. Find an unexpected hero in your life today, let them know the influence they are having on your life, and “pay it forward” by sharing their story to inspire someone else.

This is your charge.