Of Heroes and Ordinary Men

As of late, I’ve been reading a book called Ordinary Men. It’s a recount of German police battalion 101; a documentation of the men who served as part of Nazi Germany’s Order Police during the Second World War. The policemen, as cataloged by author Christopher Browning, are given an assignment on the morning of July 13, 1942 that would change their lives forever. And subsequently, the lives of every Jewish man, woman, and child living in the ghetto of Jozefow. Though only police officers, the battalion is handed down orders to “liquidate” the entire ghetto and thus, murder every single Jewish person – amounting somewhere in the thousands – that resided within. As you might suspect, the orders are carried out in full. But, not without consequence. In the days and years that follow, the members of Battalion 101 experience extreme regret, bitterness, and entanglement of their very souls. It’s a chilling read and a grim reminder of how quickly things can devolve into madness.

What’s more, the book chronicles how so many of these average police officers were given a choice: to carry out their orders or to simply “walk out.” The majority of them did not choose the latter. And though some did outright, a vast majority of officers participated. The details of which I will leave for those who wish to read the book themselves.

As a writer of fiction, I am in the business of creating stories. Stories that not only tickle the imagination, but project images and ideals of I would constitute as heroic. For without heroism, few protagonists are memorable.

And yet, when it comes to real life, the heroes we find in story are remarkably absent. Bullies surround a kid at school and no one intervenes. An employee knowingly removes money from the company bank account and those in the know turn a blind eye. If confronted with these situations ourselves, we’d all like to believe we’d rise to the occasion. That we’d mirror the heroes of our favorite fantasy or fiction and become the star of our circumstances. However, as I’m reading through Ordinary Men, it’s easy to see that we aren’t always as virtuous as we tend to think, nor are we as brave as we’d choose to believe. External forces – coupled by our own internal ones – drive us to self-preserve, to retain self-interest, and forego the sacrifice that might be necessary to simply do what is good and just.

But, what is good and just? Writers have been tackling what is right and what is wrong since the beginning of time. And the more specific and morally gripping the scenario, the cloudier our answer tends to become. Yet by continually engaging in stories that challenge our thinking on these matters, we continue to cultivate the best parts of ourselves: the traits most associated with what is admirable and what is desirable. And that’s worth writing about.

For more on that topic, check out my latest podcast We All Wish We Could Be The Hero.

I want what you have; I want to do it better; and I want you to fail

Within the Ten Commandments, there is one in particular that focuses on our thoughts. And that commandment says this: “Do not covet.”

Depending on whom you ask, this may or may not be one of the richer and philosophically deep commandments among the bunch. Not as straightforward as “do not murder” but just as thought-provoking as “you shall have no other gods before me”, I’d argue. Those three little words give us some major insight into our thought life. How we interpret other people’s successes. How we measure ourselves against our neighbors. How we relish the thought of usurping another’s ideas and then watching as they fall.

If there’s one thing social media has taught me, it’s that looks can be deceiving. A person may tout their perfect relationship one day only to break up horribly the next. Tis a fickle place, the Internet. But, when applied to online entrepreneurship – like, self-publishing – the journey to start a following can be demoralizing. Especially when you are witness to all the other success stories that are out there.

Such becomes the tendency to compromise ourselves. Throwing money at fruitless ventures. Or adopting habits that don’t work for us. I can attest to buying business cards that didn’t make much sense for me to do so.

These are the pitfalls to avoid. But, even as I type this, I understand the difficulty in doing just that. Because we are always comparing, sizing up, and measuring ourselves by the ones we wish we could be like. I have found during my own journey that one needs to establish a healthy balance of. And even more importantly, establish a mindset that doesn’t revolve around getting everything that think is necessary.

Rather, seeing what others might desire and then trying to help them achieve it. More on that in this week’s episode.


Do you have deadlines? Or do you have ‘creative checkpoints’?

I have a love and hate relationship with deadlines. I love it when I make my own. I hate it when they are handed down to me (with completely unrealistic expectations for completion). But, on the other hand, I love getting deadlines from other people. It makes me want to prove myself. I have a goal and an objective that forces me to make things happen. Because if I’m honest with myself, I know how making my own deadlines can go: I get lax. I put things off. I don’t have anyone holding me accountable but me.

Such is the struggle.

Since I started writing books, I never gave deadlines much thought. I could always work at my own pace. Nobody was looking over my shoulder. Yet as I began to release more stories and I saw people reading them, the pressure began to mount.

How soon can I get the next one out? 

If I don’t finish this next project by the end of next month, will I lose the interest of my readers? 

Should I move on to something else? 

A lot of questions began to circulate; the majority of which revolved around uncertainty. And where uncertainly festers, so does anxiety. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I worked at a pace dictated by my audience, then I was going to sink fast. I would never be able to keep up and the quality of my work would diminish. So instead of trying to create unrealistic deadlines for myself, I decided I needed to work smarter, not with a sense of fear. I needed to make checkpoints, not hard stops. I needed to give myself space to breathe; not suffocate.

As much as creatives want no borders – no barriers to their creative impulses – it is of the utmost importance that we structure ourselves around a schedule. In that way, we can allow for our creativity to flow, not constrict.

For more on that, I’ll be discussing in my latest episode: “Do you have deadlines? Or do you have creative checkpoints?” 


“I was more invested in the process; not the product itself.” – Daniel Luketic, entrepreneur

A lot goes into getting an idea off the ground. Careful planning. Risk-taking. Gathering one’s resources. Creative endeavors are never small undertakings. And though one may think intangibles like divine inspiration or sheer determination separate the winners from the losers – there’s another trait I’d argue to be equally important: the willingness to fail.

When I interviewed my (former) college roommate, Daniel, we agreed beforehand that our main topic of conversation would be his first business venture. After graduation, I ran off into the insurance world while he got busy working for a startup. And while I was loathing my existence – drowning in insurance policies – Daniel was building technology for insurance agencies. A project which culminated with him selling the business off.

Sounds like not a happy ending. Or, rather, perhaps a failed one. But, Daniel had a different perspective.

I wasn’t interested in the product necessarily. I was more interested in the process. Learning how to troubleshoot. Learning to come up with solutions. 

I wanted to ask Daniel, why insurance? Aren’t there more lucrative and exciting industries to get involved in? That wasn’t the point though. In fact, the point wasn’t about insurance – it was about building a skill set and cultivating one’s strengths.

This was my greatest takeaway from interviewing my one-time bunk-bed-buddy. Yes, one ought to find a niche. But, we ought to be just as invested in learning how to build better work habits, i.e. troubleshooting, presenting solutions and then actually carrying out. How many times have you been in a workplace where nothing happens until something bad happens? I’ve been in those environments. They aren’t fun. And they don’t grow either. Personally or on the macro level.

Yet, by taking the vantage point of: what am I willing to learn from this experience? Then we’ve already put ourselves miles ahead of our competition. But, we must be willing to put ourselves out there. Make mistakes. Then keep going.

If you’d like to forego our smiling faces and listen to the audio-only version of the interview, you can check it out here.