They say you should never meet your heroes.
The origin of the adage is debated, but for what little historiography I am capable of, I can provide a PageRank’d provenance to the prose of Gustave Flaubert who, in his Madame Bovary, opined “Il ne faut pas toucher aux idoles: la dorure en reste aux mains” — otherwise read, in my inspired interpretation: hold loosely your idols, for their golden sheen is cheaply gilded.
I consider myself truly unfortunate, then, to have met and been disappointed by so very many of them in just a few short decades.
Impatient though I am, I implore you to believe me when I say I did my best to look to those around me as torches in the dark abyss. Yet, though I do so cherish the community that created me, within it I can scarcely recall a character who was a hero worth holding dear.
My work life provided fewer leads still. While I undoubtedly learned lessons from figureheads fastened with death grips to the bow of their ships, I look back today to see more wreckage than winning war stories.
Even among the corporate “champion’s league” did I find myself starved for a savant of servant leadership. Instead, I found only once-strong individual contributors who had been punished by the Peter Principle or worse yet the weaker still simply deluded by Dilbert’s.
Saddest of all, that dearth of worthwhile idolatry spread to the industry ideologues I was hired to interact with.
One such scenario saw six months of struggle cast asunder with a prideful boast of plans to spend on planes an amount a thousand- thousands larger than the proposal, only to have the clear-cut case for change, and its big benefit to their bottom line (in stark multiples to ours), closed lost.
It was no surprise then when, months later, the lack of leadership ran the once family-run Canadian company into the ground, where it now lays at rest on the bottom line of its competitor’s balance sheet, headlines of stranded travelers’ curses its epitaph and our deepest regrets for bringing them our romance as revenue its eulogy.
Those weak men created the hard times of Hopf’s now-present prophecy, and although I am one of those who remain, I lie in my life adrift on a raft atop the waters stirred tsunamic—
“Wait, you can’t write that,” she yelped from across the room as I pre-read aloud to her.
I huffed in response. “What do you mean?”
“This is just way too negative. You’re being negative. No one is going to want to read that. You’re supposed to be a leader now. Positivity and optimism is critical for morale. And you had no good role models? Don’t be stupid.”
She continued, reloading her breath as bullets. “What about Dave? Paul? Ian? Cam? Jeff? Pablo? Rachel? Bobby? Peter or Matt? Jeremy? Stormpath Alex? Sean? Matt and Zak? Eric and Jacqui?”
As was oft the case, her words singed the ears with a potentency most painful, though to a prideful palette they tasted slightly of hypocrisy.
She was right, of course, as she quite often was. I grinned and grimaced to myself as I muttered nothings with the muted agitation of anguished agreement before I returned to my writing.
But as pen once again met page, I paused in profound realization.
It was six years ago today that I found myself in a dimly-lit Spanish bar, rapt with jamon while me enamo with the only hero I would ever need.
2017 began one of the most transformational phases of my life. One marriage ended while another began; one city-ship ended while another began; one life outlook ended while another, better one began.
To navigate the emotional encumbrance of such a series of events, and while subjugated by the sales-force of nature signing the checks, I began the cryptic and rhythmic release of pent up prose with an annual habit.
Each year, on New Year’s Day, I published a missive to chronicle, if opaquely, the adventures of the year behind. My life changed substantially in that short period of time, and while the chaos of the world around us swirls evermore violently, that’s not the vortex I find myself moved by.
Now, as we enter 2023 together with a lifetime behind us, it’s instead the affectionately named Vite Vortex who keeps me swept up alongside her.
How could pure serendipity have created the perfect storm from which you slammed into my life?
How could years of sheer dissatisfaction be so wholly demolished so simply as we now find ourselves on the other side of the five year vesting period we set as table-stakes to prove this decision was a worthwhile investment?
And how could I not now, after so many years, have the courage and the drive to pursue servant leadership — the most significant change of the year I leave behind and of the working decades that lie before me—when you give me not just the encouragement but the example to follow?
That’s why I’m glad to be adrift in the Vortex, and why the years of past closed-off contemplation have given way to a more optimistic outlook.
Because that’s what you do — and it works.
I believe I can make a positive impact on people and products and profits because I have you by my side, wherever we end up. You’re doing exactly that in the worst of circumstances, and for that, among so many other reasons, you’re my hero and my inspiration to be a better everything.
And so, as we enter a new year, one in which I’m sure we’ll face a thousand things we otherwise couldn’t have predicted both positive and problematic, I find myself with little more to say than only that which matters most:
Happy 40th birthday, Vanessa. I love you.