The 4 Traits All Heroes Share - Do You Have Them?

I recently interviewed Robert McKee, renowned teacher of screenwriting, about the Hero’s Journey. He was very cynical, to say the least.

“There aren’t any real Heroes left out there’, he said*. Or words to that effect.

‘Sure everyone talks about them. But in modern movies what people mean when they refer to the Hero is really just a Protagonist.

'And if you look at society … well don’t get me started. There’s no such thing.

‘Heroes are a special breed,’ he explained. 

‘They can’t just provide hope for the audience. Because it doesn’t take hope to live in this world. It doesn’t take hope to deal with crises or challenges …

‘It takes courage.

‘Besides. Heroes actually have to do things for others.’

Have to say I agree. 

In a Western society plagued by materialism - love of money and manipulation, selfies and porn, we need more than platitudes to find our way home. All the prophetic ‘you-can-do-it’ instagrams in the world won’t change that fact. 

Rhonda Byrnes recent book, simply called ‘Hero’, sadly doesn’t help either.

She introduces her journey with the premise that you only become a Hero once you’ve completed the steps. This is reiterated on p 195; ‘Something colossal happens to you on your Hero’s Journey. You undergo a transformation and through that … you are driven to take one more step … to help those who are disadvantaged as you once were’.


No. In my world, real Heroes start with that mindset, knowing full well the danger and difficulty they're getting into.

Real Heroes Know The Risks

That’s what I love about Mahayana & Vajrayana Buddhism. They require you to want to help others first. That means before yourself. 

So rather than somehow discovering our compassion for others and becoming Heroes as a by-product of the egotistical goals we are trying to achieve, we must choose to live the deepest truth in a way that benefits all others, before we can discover its depth in our life.

To make sure we know what we're doing, almost every individual Tibetan Buddhist meditation sequence gives us a checklist to go through, every time we sit down to start.

To paraphrase, this list is called: The Four Thoughts That Remind Us Why We Want to Be A Hero & Help All Beings. They describe the internal motivation that makes a Hero want to act at all, and apply equally to daily life and innovation as to meditation. 

The Motivation of a Hero Is Always:

  • Realising we have a wonderful opportunity to help others be happy or stop suffering
  • Knowing we are on an adventure, and cannot keep anything for ourselves of what we experience or find
  • Understanding all our actions have consequences and choosing each action carefully to impact everyone for the best
  • Being fully aware we are trying to reach a potentially impossible goal but also that we cannot do other than try - there is nothing more worthwhile to do

Note there's nothing in this list that says Heroes are trying to get rich or get the most likes on facebook.

When we examine each sentence in turn, it becomes obvious that these statements are more than a great reason to move in the first place. They are a great set of values whereby to make decisions along the way. Each sentence is equally as great a response to danger as it is to find love. And, what’s more, when the going gets tough, the Hero can repeat her original reasons for accepting The Call to remind herself of who she is and why she is doing what she is doing. 

These are actually also the four basic things we want to remember when we start the Journey of Innovation - not kidding! 

My recent doctoral research** and work on The Future of Inspiration Project shows that the traits of a Hero of Enlightened Mind are almost identical to the traits of highly creative individuals in novel situations. If you examine all the scientific papers on creativity from psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists from the year 1926 to today and group together similar traits, you find :

The Four Basic Things We Know About Creative People Are :

  • They have self-confidence and personal courage 
  • They are open to experience, enjoy experimentation and flexibility, have a taste for unconventionality and complexity and are willing to take risks
  • They rarely feel threatened, so they display a sense of humour or playfulness and / or sensitivity to others
  • They are goal-oriented and have internal control, self-reliance and persistence

The creative traits reported by scientists are reported in a fairly random fashion- not usually ordered in any kind of taxonomy. But as you can see, I grouped the traits in 4 batches, according to the categories defined in Buddhism, because it makes the two lists easy to compare and contrast. Don't you think they match up pretty well?

At the same time, I noticed that these creative traits also match the 4 styles of thinking reported in all scientific models for highest cognitive function - but that's a story for another post !

I'm guessing all my readers have these four attitudes in their life! Now, can we figure out a way to enhance them? 

After all, as Jane McGonigal, all-star game designer, points out: feeling like we're on an epic quest is one of the key drivers that keeps 7.6 million people [admittedly a few less than the 12 million player heyday of 2012] emotionally invested in playing World of Warcraft***.  It's patently a core human need to feel like we're being heroic or at least useful to others. This is a sense that is only compounded the more we believe we're living the greatest purpose the Universe has in mind for us.

Did you not also think we should provide such an epic quest for our kids, long before Jane said it and Ken Robinson lamented it's lack? I mean, why wouldn't we want to live the life other people might make movies about ?