When I was a kid, I wanted to be Hulk Hogan. I can vividly remember the time he body slammed Andre the Giant. When I saw Hogan lift Andre’s feet off the ground, everything changed. The universe I lived in after that moment was very different from the universe I lived in a few seconds before. Andre the Giant represented my idea of the insurmountable obstacle and Hulk Hogan’s ability to lift him in the air gave me permission to imagine new possibilities in my own life.
My childhood was filled with many heroes and moments like that. In addition to wanting to be Hulk Hogan, I also wanted to be Bruce Lee, Andre Dawson, Michael Jordan, Wolverine, James Bond, the Prophet Elisha, my dad, and anyone else who seemed to demonstrate mastery.
Years ago, Gatorade did a commercial about Michael Jordan featuring a song called Be Like Mike. Here are the lyrics:
Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike
Be Like Mike, Be Like Mike
Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
I wanna be, I wanna be
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike
When I first saw that commercial on television, my heart fluttered and my eyes lit up. I felt like I could reach out and touch the possibility of being like Mike. Maybe I would never dunk a basketball, but perhaps I could someday be a high-flying, game-defining, championship-winning person in my own unique way.
Being a fan of other people’s greatness has always come easily for me. Most of my education comes from lessons I’ve learned through observing people I admire. When you’re a kid, it’s cute to look up to everyone who’s older than you. Everyone loves it when you put on your dad’s oversized clothes or when you try to act like your older siblings because you think they’re the definition of cool. But a big part of growing up means finding your own voice and learning to embody your own unique sense of what it means to be cool. At some point you have to learn to celebrate what Michael Jackson called “the man in the mirror.” I’ve done a lot of inner work over the years and I can honestly say that I have learned how to love myself. Ironically, however, my increased sense of self-love and self-respect has only made me more childlike in my admiration of other people’s brilliance. I have more heroes today than I ever did as a child. When I watch George Clooney or Will Smith on the big screen, I laugh like a kid every time because they’re so cool and smooth to me. When I watched Klay Thompson score 37 points in one period without missing a single basket, I jumped up and down as if that were my big brother on the court (even though I’m older than Klay). When I say I’m impressed by guys like this, I don’t just mean that in some casual distant sense. I mean that like a 7yr old kid who wants to be like those guys. And while some people may look at that as self-deprecating, my sense of being perfectly satisfied with who I am isn’t in the least bit compromised by my adoration of these guys.
Someone recently asked me what do I think my legacy will be as a leader. After thinking about the question for a while, I responded with the following: I want to go down in history as a leader who constantly expressed an unabashed enthusiasm for other people’s greatness wherever he saw it.
For most of my life, I’ve identified myself primarily as a learner. I’m now at a stage where a growing number of people are looking up to me as a leader. I have no intentions of avoiding the challenges, responsibilities, and joys that come with leadership. But to me, being a leader means knowing how to be a fan. After all, how can you help people actualize their potential if you aren’t fully free in your ability to get pumped up and excited about their capacity for greatness?
I think being a leader often gets confused with being a celebrity. In the quest for more followers, fans, and subscribers, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of making self-promotion the end-all-be-all of social interaction and peer-to-peer sharing. I’ve even had people tell me that they only share updates about their own projects and ideas on sites like Twitter and Facebook because they want the attention to be on their personal brand. I get where they’re coming from and I’m the last person who would advise anyone to neglect the value of promoting their own brand. But I’m starting to realize that I don’t want to have a brand if having a brand means thinking of myself as the most important person for people to listen to. My brand is that of a guy who believes that the world is filled with millions of people who are worth celebrating and emulating in certain key respects.
Being a fan gives me strength. By looking up to others, I am able to look more deeply into my self. By celebrating the achievements and attributes of those around me, I’m able to see more clearly the evidence of my own beauty.
I’ve learned a lot of things from my own experiences, but when times get really tough, I still close my eyes and imagine the Hulkster lifting Andre the Giant into the air. I hear the crowd roar with ecstasy. I can see the impossible being made possible. And then I know exactly what I need to know: I know that I have to keep fighting. I know that somewhere there’s a new generation of “little hulksters” out there who may be watching me. And I need to give them a reason to believe that the giants of the world can be faced without fear.
I love myself, but I still want to be like Hulk Hogan.
That’s something I never want to lose.