Chick-fil-A VP: What does a hero look like? Look in the mirror

When is the last time you felt heroic? I bet many of us haven’t experienced that kind of confidence in a while.

But there is one thing that is guaranteed to make you feel that way, while also making the world a better place: helping others.

I know it can be overwhelming to think of all those in need around us – how do we even begin to solve the world’s problems? 

But the truth is, helping others is our responsibility––every single one of us. The world is waiting on you, your love, and the distinct gifts you have to offer.

We hinted at this truth in a previous part of this series that celebrated the everyday heroes around us, such as teachers, neighbors, pastors, coaches, friends, parents, even complete strangers.

The best way to repay those women and men who have changed our lives is by becoming heroes ourselves.

So where do you start?

Your inner circle is your training ground. Your family and friends need heroes. While caring for the home team may seem obvious––even easy––it’s actually a serious challenge. These are the people who have known you the longest, who remember (and bring up!) your mistakes. Loving them can be tough. Do it anyway. Practice patience. Ask questions about their goals then support them in concrete ways as they try to achieve them. It all starts by just being a friend to someone else.

Small, consistent acts of service and love are heroic. It’s as simple as noticing a person in pain, befriending the lonely, or rooting for someone as they set out on their own path.

Cultivate more than kindness. Cultivate compassion. True heroism relies on what I call “beyond-surface” kindness. Different than pleasant temperament or moral obligation, beyond-surface kindness digs past politeness to create compassion. Many of us are able to tap into our own deep wells of compassion only after we allow ourselves to feel and voice our own past hurts. So spend some time sitting with the anger you’ve yet to let go. Tell your stories. Your words can liberate and inspire others as you become capable of compassion that is fueled by empathy and visible in actions.

Slow down. When you are with people, are you truly seeing and hearing them? Take the time to ask questions about how people feel and what they want. Dream and make plans with them. Stop and tell someone when they’ve done well. Shower individuals with specific praise.

Be stubborn. As you try to cultivate connection with others, be prepared for push back. Remain consistent, even in the face of dismissiveness and anger. You’ll undoubtedly encounter souls harboring deep hurts, and your steadfast love in the face of their disbelief will eventually help them heal––a heroic act in itself.

Follow your own calling. You have unique talents. Be bold and embrace your gifts, then carry them down the path you feel most drawn to take. You may be compelled to be a hero to those living next door or people living on the other side of the planet. Whatever speaks to you, pay attention and make actual plans.

Bow down. Everyday heroism is not about grand gestures or big platforms. Small, consistent acts of service and love are heroic. It’s as simple as noticing a person in pain, befriending the lonely, or rooting for someone as they set out on their own path. Make serving others and humbling yourself your guideposts. Everything else will fall into place.

When someone feels connected instead of condemned, understood instead of misread, valued instead of thrown away, we build communities that thrive. A safer street, stronger city, and brighter world all start with just one person who is willing to connect with others over and over again.

That’s what a hero does. What do they look like? Look in the mirror.

Rodney Bullard is the vice president of community affairs at Chick-fil-A Inc., and the executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation. Previously, he served in the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the U.S. Justice Department. His new book is “Heroes Wanted: Why the World Needs You to Live Your Heart Out.”