The Hero Myth

What do John Newcombe, John Grisham and Lieutenant John Maclean have in common? If your answer was Samuel L Jackson, then you’re close because Maclean and Grisham are both directly linked to the motherf@#*er spraying bad-ass, but as yet no credible link has been found between Samuel L and Newc (but please, will someone write that movie!).

No, the common thread between the three Johns is that they’re all heroes in their fields. Newc is a grand slam winning legend, Grisham is a bestselling literary titan and Maclean is the undisputed king of blowing shit up while dispensing witty one-liners.

But the more interesting commonality between these three heroes is the fact that all of them endured “failures” on their way to achieving greatness.

There is a huge amount of pressure on men today to achieve success, with social media in particular helping to breed a culture of social perfectionism. You’ve got to look right, dress right, drink at the right bars, have cool friends, a great job, make loads of money and just generally be perfect.

It’s quite plainly not achievable; and it’s contributing to the current crisis in men’s mental health, with social perfectionism leading to depression and even suicide. This unrelenting quest for perfection means a new generation of men now question their self worth every time they fail to reach the ridiculous standards they’ve set themselves.

But what on earth is so wrong with “failing” sometimes?

We just need to look at some of our biggest heroes to see that their roads to greatness had plenty of potholes in them. In many cases it’s how people ride out the bumpy bits of life that truly define them.

John Grisham’s books, like The Firm and The Rainmaker, have sold hundreds of millions of copies and been made into blockbuster films; he is one of the most successful writers of all time. But Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected 28 times before finally being published. Imagine he’d given up after his fist 27 “failures”?

John Newcombe, Wimbledon, 1971

John Newcombe is a sporting icon, winner of seven grand slam singles titles, 5 Davis Cups and number three on the all time “Best Mo’s in Aussie Sport” list (behind Merv and Boonie). But while Newc never had any trouble cultivating his killer Tash (we believe he was born with it), he did stumble at his first attempt to win a Grand Slam singles title.

But Newc has a remarkable philosophy about success, saying that his job was just to give 100% on the court and if he was beaten by a better player on the day, then so be it. This genuine belief that he didn’t need to be perfect all the time helped drive Newc onto huge success, winning 7 out of 10 Grand Slam Singles finals in his career and also claiming a record 17 Grand Slam Doubles titles.

With the pressure to be perfect dialled up to eleven in this Instagram age, it’s easy for blokes to feel they’re not as buff, cool or rich as the bloke next to them. But men need to stop striving for some mythical form of perfection and instead take a leaf out of Newc’s book – give 100%, but be happy if sometimes you come second. Resilience and a healthy understanding that you don’t need to be perfect is the true path to success, because regardless of weather you win or lose you’ve enjoyed the game.

And what about our other hero, the indestructible John Maclean? Well, his entire success is built on his imperfections. In a genre dominated by hulking slabs of man-meat – Rambo, Predator – Maclean stands out because he is normal. He’s a bit out of shape, has a far from perfect mop up top and he rather foolishly forgets to wear shoes while battling a team of Euro terrorists – shoot the glass. But Maclean is dogged and he owns his fuck-ups; and this makes him the greatest action hero of all.

Another (less make-believe) man unafraid to own his fuck-ups is Will Stubbs, who runs something called “Fuck-up Night”, where people come together to share their “failures” (or fuck ups) and learn to let them go.

Fuck Up Night, Will Smith-Stubbs, Man Up


Blokes today can learn a lot from Will and our three heroic Johns. It’s great to strive for excellence, but men need to accept failure is, at times, part of life; otherwise they will be crippled by an impossible quest for perfection. Sometimes you try your best, but fall short. When this happens men need to stop beating themselves up and instead look failure square in the eye, smile and say Yippe ki yay motherf@#*er!

Know someone who could use some help?

Click here to read the research behind Social Perfectionism.