I’m Not a Hero

by Bill Brenner on May 16, 2013

In the three-plus years I’ve been writing this blog, I frequently get messages from people telling me I’m a hero for opening up about my mental health experiences. It always makes me wince.

Mood music:


A new wave of hero labeling hit after a Forbes article came out about my turning OCD into a career strength. One tweet read:

New hero: @BillBrenner70, #OCD survivor, stigma killer, & tech journo who says mental illness can help execs succeed: onforb.es/14olwPK

I appreciate that people find value in what I’m doing, and I love getting feedback from readers. But when someone calls me a hero, I get uncomfortable because I have a different idea of what a hero is. I tend to see heroes the old-fashioned way: someone who risks their life to help others. The image of first responders and bystanders rushing into the smoke to care for the wounded after the Boston Marathon bombings comes to mind.

I’m just someone who talks about the challenges we all have. It falls under the category of “Everybody does it. I just talk about it.”

Useful, yes. Heroic? I don’t think so. I’m just a man who makes mistakes and tries hard to get life right.

Erin suggested I don’t like being called a hero because I feel pressure to live up to the title and that I fear the possibility of failing to measure up. I think there’s truth to that.

Whatever the case may be, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I just want people to have realistic expectations of me.

But then that wish isn’t very realistic, is it? We’re going to see people through our own biases, distastes, hopes and dreams. That’s the human way.

I’ll keep trying to remember that.

Cavill, Man of Steel

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred May 17, 2013 at 9:43 am

I suspect that even saying that you are “brave” might make you uncomfortable. Maybe I’m just projecting, but I think you like me can’t imagine going back to hiding things inside. We benefit from being (more) transparent. The alternative is too much work. There is a direct benefit to us, and indirect benefit to others who are attracted to the transparency.

Cheryl Conner May 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Bill – I completely get where you’re coming from. Completely (even as the author of the piece that sparked the newest wave of attention, heheh). As to that tweet – the only objection I’d have to that reader’s reaction is the word “new”. You’ve been doing what you’re doing for 3-plus years now, with complete transparency and no agenda to publicize yourself or your work in any kind of a self-facing way. That, my friend, is my personal and perhaps biased definition of a true hero. So – all in a day’s work. Carry on.

Cheryl Conner May 19, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I completely understand where you’re coming from – even as the person who wrote the article that caused the most recent wave. However, the only thing I’d change in this person’s tweet is the word “new” – you have been going what you’re doing for more than three years with transparency and without a self-interest. That, my friend, would qualify you as a hero to me. Carry on.

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