Well, inspiration didn’t strike until very late in the week, so I apologize for the tardiness of this post. Better late than never, though, right?
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in the process of publishing the First Semester Physics Survival Guide, a lifeline for the reluctant physics student. (As an aside, I think I just found my subtitle/tag line.) In addition, I’ve been preparing the launch of a micropress publishing company, Three Friendships Company, which specializes in helping early career authors publish their books. I’ve gotten invaluable help from lots of people. For example, I have Mentors — wise shepherds who have already traveled the path I’m taking, and offer guidance and support — and Advisors — professionals who give expert advice and help on specialty topics. I have F&F (or Friends & Family) — the people who aren’t really directly associated with my work, but support me because of previously established relationships. I have Cheerleaders — folks who shout my praises to the world and work to bring others to my bandwagon. I even have Coaches — combination Mentor/Advisors who, for fee or free, are more than happy to tell you how you’re doing it wrong. However, I find that the most consistently beneficial help comes from the precious few folks I know who fit act as my Sidekicks.
Given the relationship between heroes and sidekicks in literature and comic books, it seems almost rude to refer to folks as “the Sidekick”. After all, everyone knows that the sidekick is usually the less capable, less mature member of the team. Sidekicks provide comic relief and serve as potential rescue fodder, right? That may be true in literature, but it does not correspond to real life. However, in literature they often provide another, less obvious function which corresponds well to the real world. Sidekicks anchor, center, and support the Hero emotionally. Sidekicks anchor the Hero by reminding her why she’s doing what she’s doing. The Sidekick keeps the Hero’s goals at the forefront of her mind and serves to counterbalance potential distractions and diversions. Sidekicks center the Hero by reminding him of his importance in the process. Although he may have Mentors, Advisors, Coaches, and F&F, ultimately it is the Hero who must make the decisions and take responsibility. Finally, the Sidekick supports the Hero by having faith in her abilities. The Sidekick not only believes in the Hero’s ability to succeed, the Sidekick shows it. More importantly, the Sidekick reminds her of this during moments of doubt. This is perhaps the most important duty of the Sidekick — helping the Hero get back to her feet after being knocked to the ground (and kicked while down) by life.
Unlike a Mentor, Advisor, or Coach, the Sidekick isn’t an older/wiser/smarter person. The Sidekick may give advice, but it’s offered as a reminder of the Hero’s core goals instead of a prescription for success. Unlike a Cheerleader, the Sidekick doesn’t talk up the Hero’s ability to anyone (and everyone) else. Instead, Sidekicks talk up the Hero’s ability to the Hero. Sidekicks don’t have unflinching faith due to previous connections (like F&F); Sidekicks believe in the Hero because she has earned their trust through behavior. Family and Friends will often encourage a Hero, but it’s always hard to tell if the support is genuine. After all, Family and Friends almost always have an emotional investment in the Hero; because of this, they may say things simply to make the Hero feel better. The main difference between a Sidekick and F&F is that the Hero can count on the Sidekick to give an honest assessment. If the Sidekick believes in the Hero, it’s because the Hero deserves it. (F&F may believe in you, but you don’t always deserve it.)
This sort of genuine encouragement is what makes success possible. It doesn’t matter how smart or skilled you are; if you don’t have others who believe in you then you are very likely to be done in by self-doubt. “Behind every great man is a great woman”, the quote goes; more accurate would be “Behind every great success is at least one Sidekick.” When faced with potential failure, actual failure, or even disaster it is easy to give up. Sidekicks remind you why you shouldn’t, why it matters, and express the unassailable faith in your ability to persevere. In the face of such faith how can you not try again? Great victories require surmounting great difficulties; surmounting great difficulties requires Sidekicks.
How To Be A Good Sidekick
Given the importance of Sidekicks, I’ve started thinking about how I might better perform as one. What might the people around me accomplish if they only had the encouragement to try, or try harder, or try again? What highs might others reach if I’m willing to encourage them and truly believe in their ability? Towards that end, here are some suggestions on how to be a good Sidekick for someone:
- Get to know your Hero. They don’t have to be older, better, or smarter than you; they just have to be doing something that interests you and that you believe in. Understand what motivates them to work on whatever project you’re interested in. To keep them focused on the task (“eyes on the prize”), you must know what the task is and why it’s important to them. You should also understand what skills and knowledge they bring to the table.
- Honestly believe in your Hero. This one is important. Based upon what you’ve learned, you will either believe that the Hero’s goals are achievable or not. If you do not believe they are, then move on. It is impossible to be a good Sidekick without believing fully in the Hero’s abilities. It’s important to be honest with your Hero as well. Sometimes helping him or her up isn’t gentle.
- Understand that you will probably get no credit. One of the reasons the quote “Behind every great man is a great woman” has gained so much traction is that it captures the fact that women have often gotten no credit for the amount of support and understanding they have provided to help their male partners succeed. While society has become more equitable in gender roles, we still focus our admiration on the Hero. We still fail to recognize the contributions of the Sidekicks that supported and helped the Hero through the moments of darkness and self-doubt.
What have been your experiences? Who are the Sidekicks in your life?