Build or burn?

Heroes are less impressive than you think

The closer you get to senior positions the more you discover that people are less impressive than you imagined they would be.  They say you should never meet your heroes and I agree.  The trouble is that, as you get older and more senior, you can’t avoid it.

I was twenty when I started training as an accountant.  At that time, I regarded partners in an accountancy firm as gods.  Now I look at partners and think ‘How did that person make partner?’  The same goes for University professors and the directors of global companies.  Not only am I not impressed when I meet these people now, in many cases, I think of many of them as quite ordinary.  How did I think these people were gods?

A few things might account for this phenomenon.  The first is that you realise that partner, professor, director, or hospital consultant are not the pinnacles you thought they were.  They are just middle management and the real top was hidden from you when you were young.  The second is job title inflation when everyone becomes a director.

The only other conclusion I can think of is that hierarchy makes the job occupants appear smarter than they really are, or at least it does to first-born children like me who tend to respect the position people attain.  If this is true for hierarchy, it means it’s true for celebrity as well.

The troubling conclusion is that even your heroes from history may not have impressed you if you had the chance to meet them.  If you feel this way at least you are in good company.  John F Kennedy is one of my heroes.  In one of his ‘Letters from America’ Alistair Cooke relates the story of JFK complaining to a colleague ‘Why is the world full of second-raters’.

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