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We All Love a Hero

But it is the boring stuff that makes a difference

Meet have-a-go hero Mamoudou Gassama. Mr Gassama rescued an infant dangling from a balcony, saving him from falling to death.

Pop quiz: who is the bigger hero?

Mr Gassama, obviously. His instant courage gets us right in the gut. But out of interest, how many lives did The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 save?

In the year 2000, it was estimated that the regulations had already saved 1,860 lives. That’s a pretty good return for Dr Hawkridge. Though unlike an act of bravery, requiring quick thought and bold action in the face of paralysing danger, crafting legislation is dull. To misquote Bismark:

It is possible that even a dramatic event like the rescued infant has its dull backstory. When we see Mamoudou Gassama’s athletic feat of scaling a building by his arms alone, we don’t see how many pull-ups he grinds out in the gym.

— — — — —

We all get easily seduced by the end product. We look jealously at Instagram influencers without once considering the hours of effort and years of experience that went into creating that seemingly effortlessly casual shot. In action films the important bit, the bit where the difference is made, the boring bit, gets skipped over for a montage.

Nobody actually wants to watch Rocky do 1,000 press ups. Every day. For a year. They want to see the big fight.

But the result is just a by product of the work. Here’s the dirty secret:

If you really want to do amazing things, all the magic happens in the montage.

Yes, you’ve heard this before. Focus on the process, not the result. Not always easy. When I was ten, I met a group of aviation enthusiasts who were restoring a WWII Spitfire. At the point I met them they had a hangar with a few aluminium bits and nothing else. How long until they were done? I asked excitedly. About eight to ten years in our spare time, came the reply.

My mind was blown at the sheer scale of the grind that involved. That was my entire life up that point! It was too much. Surely nobody had the stamina to sustain such an interest for ten years. But they built their Spitfire in the end.

So what’s your Spitfire? What ambition is so big you would spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it?

And now refocus. What boring things do you need to do, over and over again, to get yourself there?

Have you thought of something yet? Say you want to be a writer. Your boring thing might be to write something, anything today. Doesn’t matter if it is rubbish.

Write something rubbish? Yes. You can do that.

And then, like George Bernard Shaw, after several years of writing every day and several rejected novels, you will produce something amazing. And people will be astounded. And jealous.

“It’s alright for you,” they’ll say. “You’re naturally talented.”

And you can smile and know that your only talent is persistence in doing the boring stuff. The stuff that makes a difference.

The stuff that nobody else can be bothered with.

The stuff that makes you a hero.

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