Is Superman Real?

Is Superman Real?

Russell Wilson seemed to have it all: a spotless reputation, influence in his community, admiration and respect, strong faith in God, a storybook marriage, and a Super Bowl ring to boot.

That’s why his announcement last week that he is filing for divorce was so shocking to me and so many others, and why it was such big news in the first place. An important part of Wilson’s appeal is that he is a kind of “everyman,” an average guy with average gifts who achieves greatness because of his energy, commitment, and character.

We love his Cinderella tale because it transports us, and speaks to many of our own dreams and hopes. His success also seemed to come without sacrifice, implying that #notimetosleep came at #nocost.

Most of us have heard the sobering statistic that about half of all marriages end in divorce – that is especially true of couples who married young as the Wilsons did. It turns out Russell Wilson is very much like you and me.

Of course, his life was never perfect; we just didn’t know it. No one’s life is. But, the fact that we wanted to think it was perfect underscores the belief we all seem to have that such a life is possible, that we should at least try. The pressure to have it all comes with ambition and success.

I’m reminded of how I lived the first half of my life with a formula for living that translated into having it all: a loving family, a successful business, a great marriage, influence, satisfaction, spirituality, and time.  I feel I succeeded in most of those areas; I got what I wanted.

However, there was a cost to pay in the form of too much stress and anxiety. I tried to do it all and be it all, and stretched myself and my financial life too far.  The reality is that I failed a lot, in areas most important to me like my family, faith, finances, and career.

I reacted to the news of Russell’s divorce in several ways:

  1. Life is hard. More specifically, marriage is hard. You can achieve external success in spectacular, public ways, even win a Super Bowl, and still fail in internal, personal ways. Some might argue being a Super Bowl quarterback is more difficult than being a good husband, but which is more important?
  2. We desperately want to believe in Superman. For me, Russell was proof I could have it all, even though, of course, I had only a small glimpse of his real life.
  3. What we believe to be true about someone externally, someone’s image, might be very different than reality.  I’ve felt like the victim of my own image-creation at times. I’ve appeared to be externally successful, while my kids and close friends did not know the truth about my life: that I did not, in fact, have it all together.

Russell has shown us that his life is not as perfect as we thought it was, that he is vulnerable in the same ways we all are. What is important for Russell now is how he responds. He took a bold and probably shrewd first step when he announced the news himself, getting in front of it and taking control.

My hope for Russell, and for you and me, is this:

  1. Evaluate the formula we’ve created for our lives and make sure it yields the result we want.  At 52, I’m looking at my formula and seeing ways I’d like to live this next chapter of life differently. We’re never too old or too young, too famous or too successful to improve this formula.
  2. Give ourselves accountability.  Make sure you’re a regular part of a social group, like a circle of close friends or colleagues, or a faith-based community. Surround yourself with people around whom you can be real and transparent. We need to occasionally let down our guard, share our lives and see what is working and what isn’t.
  3. Don’t become the typical pro athlete version of fame (all about me). The funny thing is that we can all become the typical version of that if we chase the wrong things for the wrong reasons.  Let’s take this opportunity to revisit our purpose in life—what we are chasing—and make sure it aligns with our priorities.

Russell Wilson’s public setback is a good reminder that Superman doesn’t really exist. The mythical life of the rich and famous does not really exist either. What does exist is just real people, some more famous or more rich than others, who nonetheless fall down at times and need to get back up.  There isn’t a secret path to perfection, but instead a flawed life of ordinary steps. Sometimes that leads people to the pinnacle of ‘external’ success, but that doesn’t necessary translate to a life fully lived.

The question shouldn’t be, “how do I have it all?” Maybe instead, the question should be, “what is most important to me?

John Christianson
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