There’s a hole in the sky. A dark void where thousands of aliens hell-bent on total destruction are portaled into this world. And there on the street, thousands of feet below, stands the small group of elite fighters that is either going to stop this invasion and save the world or fail and watch every human perish. Though they’re outnumbered, they have a plan. Ironman and Hawkeye blast off together into the sky, Thor zips towards the portal, Hulk smashes, and Captain America, Black Widow, and Nate Hilpert fight the battle on the city streets.
Ah, what a great day that was. The rush of saving the human race from utter extinction followed by cold beers with the gang. At least, that’s the version of Avengers I saw. And with the Age of Ultron in theaters now, I’m excited to make another guest appearance in my second Avengers film.
I suppose I have a confession to make: I’ve thought I was the superhero in every movie ever.
I’ve been Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, Arrow, Daredevil, Thing, Thor, Captain America, Flash, Hawkeye, Ironman, Wolverine, Professor X, Juggernaut, and the Hulk. My superhero resume is extensive. I’ve saved the world so many times, I’ve lost count. But no need to thank me. It’s all in an imaginary day’s work.
When I look at the lives of real life superheroes—others who are successful in one way or another—I find myself imagining I could be them too. I imagine myself as the guy who wakes up at 5AM, bulldozes the gym, crosses off even the bonus items on the to-do, and seduces my wife with intoxicating charm. But instead of living it out, I’m satisfied thinking if I really wanted to, I could.
If you’ve ever been a resident of CouldLand, you understand the appeal. All the glory, none of the effort—the ultimate shield to hide behind. The brilliance of CouldLand is that you are your own judge at the end of the day, and as long as you can prove to yourself that you could, you erase every claim of couldn’t. It’s the magic power of the “if”. If we started at the same time in the same place; if I had the same opportunity you did; if I was as beautiful as you are; if I could have…if you just…
The problem with CouldLand is that everything becomes so much harder when you actually have to do something in reality. When we don’t have our fantasy as armor to hide behind, it’s scary because we’re afraid to find out that we don’t stack up to the superheroes we imagined we were.
I always imagined by the time I was an adult, I would have it all figured out: I would be important; I would be changing the world; I would be big. And I look at my own life and wonder—how did I get here? I wonder how I make my budget work every month, I have no clue what I’m doing as a husband, I struggle with insecurities I thought I’d outgrown years ago, and I feel like this world wouldn’t lose much if it lost me. My life, without the ifs and without the coulds, feels a lot smaller than I imagined it would by now.
And for a long time, I thought that was the worst reality—to find out I’m small, insignificant, dust in the wind. But now I realize there’s something much worse: living the rest of my life hiding in my imagination. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if I did or didn’t save the world. If I spend my life doing instead of imagining, acting instead of wondering, I will have accomplished what I was really meant to do: my best with what I had.
It’s been a long time since I’ve actually been present to my life. I’ve been living so far off in CouldLand that I almost forgot the joy in progress and held onto the anxiety of comparison. What I didn’t realize is that while I’ve been casting myself in the lead role of The Avengers in my mind, I’ve missed out on the opportunity to be the hero in my own story. One I’ll be proud to tell someday because it’s the one I actually lived out instead of just imagined.
I might not have the superpower of telling the future, but I’d bet when we step off the screen and into our own story, we’ll find we’ve been the hero there all along.