Whenever people ask me who my biggest inspiration is, I tell them my grandfather.
It’s not that I don’t have other people in my life who inspire me. There are many.
But for the sheer impact that someone has had on my life full stop, from childhood to adulthood, it’d be my late grandfather.
After all, any man whose advice includes always standing up before you flush has to be onto something, right?
It’s one of these pieces of advice that came back to me recently, as I was getting over first a nasty stomach bug, and currently a heavy summer cold/chest infection.
You only have two shoulders. Make sure at least one of them is for you.
My grandfather’s point was this – often, it feels like we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Family stuff. Personal struggles. Work. The world. Kids, and helping them find their way in the world.
All this and more can start to weigh heavily on us and, if we’re not careful, can overcome and overpower, until we’re lying on the ground, breathing heavily, wondering what we do next and not having a clear answer.
We’re Not Superheroes
My son’s favourite superhero is Batman. My daughter’s is Wonder Woman (sorry Marvel Comics, it’s DC for my kids!).
Ewan, my son, likes Batman because of his one-liners (admittedly, from the LEGO Batman movie), while my daughter, Salem, loves Wonder Woman for being strong, brave, and “a girl” (her words).
They both play with each other and use little LEGO figures to act our their imaginary superhero stories, usually with Wonder Woman winning because she’s stronger than everyone.
Sometimes, after one of these games, either of them might say, “I want to be Batman/Wonder Woman when I grow up”, at which I smile, nod, and we talk about what they’d do with super powers.
It’s a nice family moment, and I enjoy listening to what my young kids envision for their future.
But back in the “real world”, we’re not superheroes. At least, not in the comic book version of the word.
Yes, we do heroic things every day without even knowing it (if you go by the literal meaning of the word), but that’s where it stops.
We can’t stop bullets with our wrists. We can’t jump over tall mountains. We can’t use million-dollar technology to stop the bad guys.
When we do try and be superheroes, we fall. We start to be overcome, not realizing it’s happening.
We begin to stress, because we don’t want to fail, either ourselves or those that count on us.
We get weak, physically and mentally, and it becomes harder to pull ourselves out of the funk, so we continue down the path we’re on until breaking point is reached.
We never see superheroes break, because they don’t live our lives and we don’t live in comic book fantasy worlds.
Save a Shoulder for You
Back to my grandfather’s point, we need to realize that while superheroes may have the archetypal broad shoulders, we only have two normal ones.
We can’t always carry the weight expected of us (either by others or our own unrealistic expectations).
We can’t continue to load ourselves up, when the load is already at max and there’s still so much to do.
Instead, we need to be honest (and that takes bravery, because no-one likes to admit defeat) and speak loud, and say our shoulders are full.
We need to keep one shoulder just for us, knowing that there will be times we need to hold ourselves up because only we can move us forward in certain circumstances.
By all means, we want to help, and be helpful, and be supportive, and all the other stuff it takes if we want to be good people, and meaningful parts of society and the community around us.
But if we can’t support ourselves first, how can we ever expect to support others?
Be brave. Be selfish, if that’s what it takes. But be strong, and be true to yourself.
We only have two shoulders. Make sure at least one of them is for you.