“never meet your heroes”, and other lies.


(Cross posted from the company blog at MetaBroadcast)

One of my biggest bugbears are those nonsensical, glib pearls of received wisdom that are so commonplace that they’re rarely questioned. A quick shout on the twitters brought up a few examples; lies like “Cream always rises to the top” (which implies that everyone deserves their station), or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (or permanently maimed, crippled, disfigured), also redundant statements like “It’s always in the last place you look” (obviously) or “Cheap at half the price” (…obviously).

Another saying that I’ve found to be painfully wrong is “never meet your heroes”, the idea being that they could never live up to the pedestal you’ve put them on and so can only ever disappoint. That’s probably true if your only interest in them is distant worship, but if you hope to emulate any aspect of them then humanising their achievements can be a transformative epiphany.

A few years ago I was feeling pretty disheartened about learning Javascript, spending 90% of the time hunting broken syntax. I’ll never forget watching Paul Irish — whose site was my bible of CSS hacks for years — live-demoing a JS framework when 2 minutes in he misses a semicolon, it all breaks and someone from the audience has to tell him where to fix it. Realising that it was just par for the course was a game changer for me.

A month ago I was worried that I wasn’t using a string of conferences to network properly, instead spending the time in between speakers quietly practicing photography and enjoying the fact I could edit on the move with my MBP. Again it was encouraging to see Remy Sharp — who must have known dozens of people at the conf — just sitting alone at the back, focussed fully on the speakers and not partaking of the bantz.

This has wider applications than professional too: earlier this month a couple of friends had me take photos backstage at their cabaret show at the London Wonderground and there was some overlap with another show that I’ve seen twice and loooove. I was too nervous to actually chat with them but just seeing firsthand that people you look up to are lovely in person can inspire you to be nice to people, and generally reinforces those values.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might find out they’re not all that, and by comparison you’re better than you thought. Or they could be horrible and you decide you’re better off directing your attention to more effective exemplars.

Of course idioms and sayings are terrible sources of advice; contradictory axioms everywhere.

All good things come to those who wait. // Time and tide wait for no man.
Out of sight, out of mind // Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
The pen is mightier than the sword // Actions speak louder than words.
The best things in life are free. // There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
What you see is what you get // Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Many hands make light work. // Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Familiarity breeds contempt // Home is where the heart is.
Birds of a feather flock together // Opposites attract.
Never meet your heroes // Bloody do it, it’ll be great.