Imagine if Luke Skywalker had battled Darth Vader at the beginning of Star Wars rather than at the end. Or, imagine if Braveheart had tried to lead his army into battle against the English five minutes into the movie. It would have been disastrous. They would have gotten killed. Luke wasn’t ready at the beginning of the story, neither was Braveheart. They weren’t yet the heroes they needed to be in order to complete their quests and emerge victorious.

When we go to the movies, we know that the hero can’t win at the very beginning. In fact, the movie really isn’t about what the hero wants to achieve, it’s about the journey that it takes to get there. We watch the hero-to-be experience failures, set-backs, near disasters, growth, and finally his transformation. We watch the main character go through the process of becoming the hero he needs to be in order to win in the end. The journey makes the hero.

And so it is in our lives as well.

Anybody who has ever done anything great, anyone who has ever changed the world started out as just an ordinary person. At the beginning of his journey, he wasn’t the hero he needed to be in order to reach his goal. He wasn’t strong enough, smart enough, or wise enough. Just like in our favorite movies, it’s the challenges, struggles and ah-ha moments of the journey itself that transforms us from the ordinary person we are, into the hero we need to be.

Here’s my story.

Maybe it was because I was exhausted, or dehydrated, or maybe because I had recently fallen in love with the sport of wrestling. Maybe I was still in that giddy honeymoon stage where anything seemed possible. Whatever the reason, I was a freshman at South Hills High School, riding my bike home after my first week of wrestling practice when I thought to myself “I’m going to be a State Champion when I’m a senior.”

The idea was absurd for a number of reasons, the first of which was that I sucked at wrestling. I was a skinny, uncoordinated, shy 13 year old whose entire experience in the athletic spotlight was a single AYSO soccer game at the age of six when I scored the winning goal for the Condors.

In addition to my general lack of athletic ability, I had absolutely no idea what becoming a State Champion entailed. All I knew was that in 1981 South Hills High School won the State Championship team title. So, I knew it was possible.

I finished my freshman season with a record of 0-1. If I was trying to keep my state championship run on the down-low, I was doing a great job.

It’s the journey that makes the hero.

The next three years played out just like a story. I worked hard, I had the support of family, of caring, knowledgeable coaches, and I had good teammates who could push me in practice. I wrestled as much as I could; attending off-season training sessions and wrestling camps. I wrestled against the toughest opponents I could find. I failed often and sometimes spectacularly, like at the state championship my junior year. Where, after beating my first opponent by 15 points, I lost my next two matches and was knocked out of the tournament.

Because I believed that I was going to be a State Champion as a senior, my losses and failures motivted me to work harder. The story I told myself was that I was a hero on a quest to be a champion. I had watched enough movies to know that every hero experiences set-backs and failures along the way. In fact, he has to fail. It’s his failures and struggles that forge the man into the hero he must become in order to succeed in his quest.  

Let me set the stage. This is the video of the final match at the California CIF State Tournament in 1992. I had advanced to the finals with four wins and had a record of 50-0 on the season. My opponent had also advanced with four wins and he had a record of 45-0. We were on center mat at University of Pacific in Stockton, CA. There was a crowd of about 10,000 for the finals. As I waited for our match to start, I was remarkably calm. I knew that I had done all I could over the past four years. I was at peace. I was grateful to be so close to my goal. It was time.

Nobody starts out with all of the skills, strength, and knowledge that they need in order to do something great. We all start out as ordinary people with a dream of we want to achieve. It is the act of walking the path towards that dream that transforms us into the person we need to be in order to achieve it.

The sad thing is that so many people never take the first step down that path. They are scared because they don’t think they are capable of accomplishing their biggest goals. Well DUH! Of course they aren’t. They haven’t been transformed by the journey yet.

It is the journey that makes the hero.

If you want to do something great in your life, but you can’t see how you can possibly accomplish it. That’s OK. Set a goal, take a step down the path….THE JOURNEY MAKES THE HERO.