Book Summary: Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller

Quick Summary:  Hero on a Mission shows you how to change your mindset and make your life more meaningful – from your career to your morning routine. You’ll learn how to deal with obstacles and take back control to reach your full potential.

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to do with your life, but never do any of it? If this sounds familiar, this book can help. You’ll learn how to live a more heroic life and tackle your personal goals.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: There is an internal locus of control in heroes

There is an important difference between heroes and victims or villains. The key is a positive attitude. All three people can face the same difficulties in life, but as we have seen, only the hero has the right attitude to overcome them.

What are the qualities that characterize a heroic attitude? Well, it is first and foremost about control. More specifically, it’s about how much control you have over the things that happen in your life.

Psychologists refer to this belief in your own control over your destiny as “internal locus of control,” and it’s a trait that all heroes have. Victims, on the other hand, attach their sense of control to external sources. They believe that outside forces determine what happens to them and where they end up.

Let us observe this victim mentality at work. Remember how Donald Miller wanted to be a writer? When he started writing, he thought that the seat in his favorite chair at the local coffee store was directly related to the quality of his work. That was it. For no other reason than that he had once written a good page in that chair, he had come to believe that he could only write well if he sat there.

What would happen if one day he went to the café and found that there was no free coffee? Then he would sit down in another place across the street and wait until the designated chair became available again. He would definitely not put pen to paper if it did not become free.

An excellent example of a personal sense of agency. Donald Miller felt that he had no control over the quality of his writing, and instead blamed external factors. Look at how a writer like Stephen King, who has had great success, thinks, and you’ll notice a big difference.

Stephen King does not have a magic chair and does not rely on inspiration to write his bestsellers. He realizes that he does not need anything outside of himself to write a great story. That’s why King, like all other successful authors, considers writing a full-time job.

He checks in at the office to write down his thoughts and quickly leaves as soon as he’s done. Such behavior indicates an internal control mechanism, where you alone decide the results of your actions.

As interesting as it may seem, the benefits of an internal control system go beyond heroism. Researchers have found that people who locate their agency within themselves rather than outside of themselves not only experience less anxiety and depression, but are also more financially successful.

Keeping that in mind, the first thing you need to do is examine your mindset and realize how much power you have to make great things happen, to make yourself a hero.

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Lesson 2: Suffering gives heroes meaning

A hero is someone who faces adversity and triumphs. True, but that is only part of the story. To be a hero, you can not just sit around and hope something bad happens to you. A hero, on the other hand, rolls up his sleeves and actively seeks out conflict and challenging new missions.

Simply put, heroes are not passive bystanders, as victims often are. Unlike victims who sit around waiting to be rescued, heroes are constantly on the move. According to Donald Miller, it is through such courageous acts that we find our purpose in life. Only when we strive for a goal that challenges us do we find the true meaning of our lives.

Miller’s self-imposed challenge to ride his bicycle from Los Angeles to Delaware was one of his most heroic undertakings. When he set out, he knew it would be no walk in the park. He was morbidly obese, and this was his first attempt at such a thing.

It was no easy task, as he had predicted. Sitting in the saddle for seven weeks straight was not only uncomfortable, but often painful. The beauty of heroics, however, is that you feel better despite your suffering. As he and his friends cycled across the country through storms and desert winds, he learned to turn his hardship into something meaningful and uplifting.

It is possible that the idea that a hero can find something good in his ordeal might be seen as naïve or even offensive. One might think that a grueling cycling vacation pales in comparison to the pain that really matters. No matter how low a person may sink, a heroic attitude can help them find meaning in life.

Just consider the incredible life of Viktor Frankl, a pioneering psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. During his time in Auschwitz, Frankl developed a philosophy of searching for meaning despite overwhelming adversity. When questioned by his cellmates, he explained that one day they would be able to tell their story to the world as proof of the existence of evil.

Frankl argued that their deaths would serve as examples of evil and inspire people around the world to fight back. This allowed Frankl to see his ordeal in a new light, as a heroic mission that served a higher purpose. His incredible resilience shows that it is always possible to change one’s perspective and find one’s own heroic purpose in life, regardless of the circumstances in which one lives.

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Lesson 3: To achieve a goal, heroes transform themselves

Ultimately, the hero’s journey is a metaphor for personal development. When you make the decision to save the day, you make a promise to better yourself. Most of us hate facing new challenges. But if you think about it, being constantly unchanged is even more troubling.

Imagine meeting a long-lost friend again after a long absence. They seem to be the same as always as you get to know them better. They have the same problems and remember the same anecdotes as before. You would probably find it both disturbing and boring to spend time with them. And why? Because common sense tells us that you should not be the same person today as you were yesterday.

But how exactly do you effect this heroic change in yourself? It’s not as hard as you might think. Just focus on your goals and do your best to achieve them. Every story of heroism begins with setting a goal. Just think about Katniss Everdeen, the main character in The Hunger Games.

When she volunteers to participate in the games in place of her younger sister, she immediately becomes a hero. Her priority is to protect her loved ones. Katniss is an excellent role model for heroes because she was forced to act to achieve her goal. Instead, she had no choice when her little sister was chosen to participate in the Olympics. This is significant because the average person spends 50% of their life thinking about what they want.

We invest a lot of time thinking about what will make us happiest and most fulfilled. However, all of this misses the point, because the true essence of heroism lies in the journey itself. The journey itself is more important than the destination in creating a hero.

Therefore, decide on a goal to work towards and set out to get there. This can be anything from starting a new career to starting a family to starting a rock band.

This change will not be easy. There will be hardships and difficulties to endure. However, it is important to keep in mind that it is these types of adversities that will forge your heroism. Without them, change is impossible. Donald Miller has faced some difficult events in his life that have ultimately strengthened him.

When he first started making money as a writer, he gambled away all of his earnings. After only a few days, he woke up to find that he had lost everything he had invested. He had no idea he would ever see that kind of wealth again. But he actually did!

He overcame his grief and loss by rewriting his books and making other changes in his life. Thanks to his hard-earned knowledge of how to preserve and grow his wealth, he now makes wise financial decisions. He also donates to charity each year the same amount he lost on that terrible day.

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Lesson 4: Eulogies can help you visualize a more heroic life

So far we have talked about choosing a goal and doing whatever it takes to reach it. The question is, “What now?” once you have accomplished your task. So what do you do after you finish your book or your bike ride? In a single moment, you will be able to survey your entire existence from the present to the distant future in stunning detail.

As we have seen, heroes are constantly on the move; once you have reached one destination, it’s time to quickly shift gears and focus on the next. Many daring ventures will fill your days. All of these goals, when achieved, will lead to a life that is both meaningful and well lived.

Sure, just thinking about one heroic mission can be daunting, let alone a whole series of missions. You may also think that it is impossible to predict the missions you will take on in the future because you have no idea what surprises life has in store for you.

However, this way of thinking is counterproductive. When you ignore the future out of fear or uncertainty, you are assuming an external center of control. You passively wait for an external event to give you direction and security instead of taking your life into your own hands. Do not sit around hoping for heroic missions, but think about what you want to achieve before you leave this world.

How can you start working on this life map? Creating it in the form of a eulogy is one of the most effective methods, even though it may sound morbid.

Imagine your loved ones at your funeral and take a deep breath. What do you want people to remember most about you after your passing? Maybe you want them to talk about how successful you were in business, how wonderful a parent you were, or how well versed you were in the arts.

Maybe you hope they will say that you and your spouse had a wonderful relationship. Putting on paper what you want to be said about you when you die is like making a plan for a fulfilling life and outlining all the bold actions you need to take to put that plan into action.

You will find that you have already tackled some of these tasks as you write your eulogy. In contrast, you will find that other missions will show you that you are just getting warmed up. You may feel a sense of urgency because you still have so much work to do. But this is not a negative development.

In fact, the opposite is true. Remember that you are living in a story, and that in all good stories there is time pressure. For example, think of the typical romantic comedy. You may be fixated on the “boy meets girl” aspect, but if you take a step back, you’ll find that the excitement in the story is usually caused by time pressure.

Maybe the girl is already engaged to another man and the wedding is supposed to take place in six days, and the boy is trying to convince her that she should be with him instead. When time does not matter, there’s no tension or drama, and the plot just sort of meanders… along.

Ultimately, in our own stories, death is the biggest time constraint. We all have a limited amount of time to accomplish our heroic goals before we are buried and our eulogies are read. Although the thought of it is frightening, being a hero is no walk in the park.

True heroes accept their own mortality with courage. It’s a source of motivation that drives them to take risks and act quickly, while helping them keep their wits about them. Even though the thought of death is morbid, the passage of time is essential so that we all do not put off forever what needs to be done tomorrow. If we did, there would not be much action in our stories, and that’s not the way heroes are made.

Considering your own mortality, it’s time to put your thoughts on paper.

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