How to Be a Hero (Hint: Incrementally)

The January 23rd issue of the New Yorker included an article by Atul Gawande entitled “Tell Me Where it Hurts.”

If you have time to read the entire article, I highly, highly recommend it. If not, (in a nutshell) his point is that our medical system rewards heroic intervention but overlooks the value of incremental care – that telling someone “I’m going to perform quadruple bypass surgery!” has a sexiness that overshadows telling someone, “Take your blood pressure medication in a timely manner!” despite the fact that more people are likely to be helped by taking their meds on schedule.

With this in mind, Mr. Gawande would prefer we begin to value the transformation of our health by daily, small actions. He refers to this approach as “the heroism of the incremental.”

How can this idea apply to you and your career?

Well, if your boss is driving you bonkers isn’t it easier to fantasize about their firing and your promotion rather than setting up one informational interview, going to one peer coffee meeting, or attending one industry networking event?

Or if your job is feeling like a dead end, isn’t it easier to fantasize about winning the lottery than it is to begin researching going back to school for a skill set that will help you move up—or change careers completely?

But doing any of these small, heroic actions has the potential to take you further, faster than waiting for what I have come to think of as the “Disney” moment: the one that works for TV and movies because they are out of time (and they need the ratings) but rarely come to pass in real life.

And isn’t it better to be the hero of small moments rather than the hero of no moments at all?