Derek Shanahan

Your Heroes Have Heroes Too


It’s been a whirlwind year.

On Conan the other night Aaron Paul relayed a night with his girlfriend in New York in which he spotted Conan at a play and stood outside reeling about wanting to go up and introduce himself. It was pouring rain and he and his girl were awestruck enough to wimp out on approaching Conan. They stood outside and watched him get in his car and start to drive away.

The car pulled up, stopped, and Conan jumped out like a crazy  person, running through the rain to introduce himself to Aaron. Conan told him Breaking Bad was one of the best shows that’s ever been produced on television.


I’ve always had this weird relationship with the idea of celebrity. I’ve always been opposed to it, actually.

When I was dating Kate we talked about it a lot…when we met celebrity was this thing, this otherworldly thing that carried with it a magic and an inaccessibility that put people like Brad Pitt or Bono or multinational CEOs in a class that wasn’t of the world normal people existed in.

I fought that sentiment. I fought it because I’d played soccer and gone to college with a lot of celebrities and that veil had been pierced. My ego probably played  a role there too; I won’t deny that.

I still meet and know people who have a similar view of celebrity, and it still doesn’t sit well with me.

When I look back, though, I know I had heroes too. I know I looked at people who inspired me as if they knew something I didn’t…as if they were a chosen class of people that didn’t include people who grew up in the suburbs and went to college and still knew all their friends from highschool.


My heroes were people building tech companies. Founders of shit like Napster, Facebook, MySpace, and lots of other web shit you’ve probably never heard of. These were people I felt like I’d always be watching…people I’d watch get into fancy cars while standing in a downpour.


One thing this whirlwind of two years has shown me is that people doing amazing things are just people too. They work their asses off and they’re inspired by all kinds of people just like everyone else is.

Your heroes have heroes.

Often the people living your dream life want to help you get there. They want to mentor, collaborate, or offer insight into how they’ve gotten what they have.

They’re not really interested in being fawned over.

They’re usually interested in how they’ve inspired other people.


A wise friend of mine, Mack, put it well.

“I eat my heroes. I’ve eaten a bunch of them and I have a new set of heroes that I’m going to eat as well.”

“They start out up here [hand in the air] but eventually I’ll eat them and find a new plateau to go conquer.”


I still have heroes, and I still watch them and work off of the inspiration they offer me.

When I wonder about how they’ve done what they’ve done, I ask them.


Are you eating your heroes?


Great post!

I recently had the chance to see/hear Michele Landsberg, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, three people I am a little in awe of, speak. Walking home an hour or so later I passed the three of them standing around on the sidewalk with Stephen Lewis (also someone I'd count among my heroes) having a casual family chat. It was a good reminder that they are nulti-dimensional people with real lives and families and that there's really no reason I can't accomplish things that are just as inspirational.


Devour them. Gorge on them. Eat their flesh. Once you have consumed them they can become your friends. (Usually.) And then they are still inspiring.


  1. […] as my brilliant friend Derek Shanahan once said to me, “People respect perfection, but they fall in love with […]