You…the hero in an epic story

The-Art-of-FieldingAbout a month ago I spoke to the Eagle Group as John Swaney’s guest.  The Eagle Group serves Minnesota Veterans in career transition and everyone attending that night was either looking for a job or had found one with the group’s support.  I met a lot of interesting and impressive men and women that night.

One of those interesting people was Alan Hill.  I had breakfast with Alan earlier this week.  Although Alan is now an IT guy at United Health Group, he’s also got lots of experience in supporting job seekers.  His web site (The Miracle Worker) provides lots of resources for people looking for new career opportunities.  Part of our conversation at breakfast touched on Alan’s big insight in working with people looking for work.  He said something magical happened when his client recognized, appreciated and understood how to communicate their value.

Alan shared examples with me of times when he’d ask career clients to tell him their stories.  What I heard was that Alan would listen deeply as his clients shared their stories and he would hear them as epic and recognize his client as the story’s hero.  That reminded me of a note I received some years ago from Steve Stoup.  Back then Steve was with Fidelity Bank in Edina.  Steve is now Director of Business Development for BDO.  Here’s Steve’s note to me:

Jim:  Here is the characterization about coaching from the book The Art of Fielding and it comes from the team’s catcher, a senior in college who everyone figures will become a coach.


“I already knew I could coach.  All you have to do is look at each of your players and ask yourself:  ‘What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself?‘  And then you tell the guy that story.  You tell it with a hint of doom. You include his flaws.  You include the many obstacles that can prevent him from succeeding.  That is what makes the story epic:  the player, the hero, has to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph.  I know that people love to suffer, as long as the suffering makes sense.  Everybody suffers. 

The key is to choose the form of your suffering.  Most people can’t do that alone, they need a coach.  A good coach makes you suffer in a way that suits you.  A bad coach makes everyone suffer in the same way, and so is more like a torturer.”

From The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Grandpa Jim with favorite granddaughter Liberty

Grandpa Jim with
favorite granddaughter

I don’t know about the “hint of doom” or choosing the “form for your suffering,” but I do think we long to be recognized as heroes.  I think both Alan Hill and Steve Stoup are great listeners and have both the commitment and the ability to recognize others as the heroes in the epic stories of life.

I’m grateful to know both men and will dedicate my day today to Alan and Steve and do my best today to recognize the people I meet today as heroes.

My question for you:  is this notion of recognizing the story of a person’s life relevant for you?  I’m really asking.


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  1. All of us are heroes. Blowing your own horn, especially if you are from Minnesota, an introvert or have felt the sting of derision are great reasons to stay hidden. Joseph Campbell, who was an expert on the heroes journey wrote,

    I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. – Joseph Campbell

    Having a coach and a friend like you gets you back in the experience. Perhaps the most difficult part, at least for me, is said best by ee cummings.

    To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e. e. cummings

    You are a master Jim. Thank you!

  2. You asked about the relevance of recognizing a person’s life as a story and I LOVE hearing about other people’s lives…especially as a story. I can see how that gives the listener, and the teller, a bit of distance from the emotional drama without detracting from the action and plot. It allows me as the listener to put myself in their shoes.

    I can also see that being listened to as a hero allows me, the storyteller, to keep my dignity as I replay stupid mistakes and decisions I’ve made that may have led to a tragedy. I get to learn from them without having to defend myself (when there’s really no good defense for some of the things done).

    And as an epic hero? Then I know there’s more to come, more drama, more pathos, more adventure. Who doesn’t love an everyday hero?!

  3. Patrick Maloney says:

    Life is a discovery of peoples power magnificence
    and beauty. Love and service are the human vocation.

    Coaches have people get their own power magnificence and beauty. Love and service include redemptive suffering and joy.

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