I woke up early one Saturday morning to the soft beeping of my Timex watch. I quickly silenced it and stayed still, listening to hear if my little brother had woken up in the bunk below. Hearing only steady breathing, I quietly hopped out of the top bunk with my quilt wrapped around me and tiptoed down the hall to the living room of our tiny house. I pulled several chairs over from the dining room table, placed them in a circle, and proceeded to make a fort completely impenetrable to light. Once satisfied with my construction, I grabbed my tiny laptop-style DVD player, my X-Men DVDs, a few snacks, and entered my cozy den.
I probably watched those X-Men movies 50 times that summer alone - it was 2002 and I was 12 years old. I loved the movies and the whole X-Men world. The stories and characters were more than just cool to me - they were inspiring. I was especially inspired by Professor Xavier - and this was long before I myself would become paralyzed. I was in awe of his diplomacy, his belief in the goodness of people, and his uncanny ability to empathize with others because of his gifts.
So, I watched over and over, relishing the excitement and awe as well as the longing I felt. Longing to live in a world so imbued with purpose, and longing to be the kind of person who could save the world. After many years, my fixation began to taper out a bit, and it would be many years before I would return to the world of the X-Men.
Then, just a few months ago, I was struck with a desire to rewatch the movies, realizing that it had been years since I’d viewed them. I transferred into my recliner, popped some popcorn and, like Peter Pan returning to Neverland, I reentered the imaginary world of my childhood. It was thrilling - I loved every second of it.
The movie ended and the credits rolled along with the epic music. I turned off the TV and sat for a moment in the dark living room, my mind buzzing and my heart full. I couldn’t believe it - after twenty years of aging and life experience, there I was, feeling all the same things I did as a child - the excitement, the inspiration, even the longing. I was surprised by how powerful the emotional experience was for me.
When I had these feelings as a kid, I interpreted them simply as intense interest. I thought, “I wanna be an X-Man”. But now, equipped with new tools and insights (including the knowledge that our emotions are packets of important data), I found myself curious, wondering what the concoction of sensations inside of me was trying to tell me. So, I started investigating and what I found has been life changing.
When I asked myself why the X-Men inspire me, I found that they embodied characteristics, qualities and ways of being that resonated with me. For example, the X-Men have a clear mission and a cause they are willing to make sacrifices for - something that is very important in my own life. Professor X is driven, intelligent, and demonstrates how a disabled person can contribute to humanity in irreplaceable ways - all things I want to be myself.
In other words, I discovered that my feelings of inspiration were not actually about the X-men and who they were, they were about me and who I want to be. This is resonance - when what we see in others awakens something inside of us. Game recognizes game, as it were.
This understanding has been a game-changer for me. When I feel moved by a person or a character, I ask myself, “What is it about them that inspires me?” I know that the answer will tell me something very valuable about myself. It’s fast-tracked the way I have learned about myself, my goals, and my values.
This is the power of story-telling. Stories, whether fictional or not, highlight key ways of being or characteristics in a condensed fashion. For example, we can see pure courage or love demonstrated in a single novel or film that would be difficult to capture in day-to-day life. People have been telling stories for this exact reason since the dawn of time. It is through other characters and stories that we discover who we are ourselves.
So, what stories are you drawn to? What characters or heroes, whether fictional or real, leave you inspired or with a sense of longing? What about them moves you specifically? Perhaps it’s their integrity, or their sheer grit in the face of overwhelming odds. Or maybe it’s their compassion for others, or their loyalty to a cause, movement, or mission.
Whatever it is, I’m here to tell you that you cannot be inspired by something that does not already exist in you. If you are inspired by Superman, it’s because there is Superman in you. If you are inspired by Shuri, Aang, Mother Teresa, Viktor Frankl or the Iron Giant, it’s because you are that.
We all have different heroes, and we are all inspired by different stories, and rightly so. All of us have a unique self-expression. But if you and I listen to what moves us, we’ll find that what we are really moved by is what is possible for ourselves. By taking actions that are more in alignment with our heroes' ways of being, we will soon find ourselves feeling just as inspired by our own story as we are by theirs. The cliche is true - you are indeed the hero of your own story… you just have to see it for yourself.