"I think a lot of guys get too preoccupied and overwhelmed with being a superstar. They think of that iconic image of Superman. In my opinion, they need to realize that not enough respect is paid to the alter ego: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers. Those are the real guys. That’s who Superman is. He’s Clark Kent.
“I’m real big on being an average Joe. A lot of people, especially in today’s society, want to throw too much praise at the character and not at the real person.”
These aren’t the words of some average Joe who’s caught up in his own specially created fantasy world and can’t distinguish between real people and comic book characters. Rather, the speaker in this case is none other than World Extreme Cagefighting former 155-pound champion Benson Henderson, who, despite already being viewed as a future Cage Fighting hall of famer, continues to impress fight fans with his still-growing arsenal of skills.
Henderson’s comments appeared in sportswriter Kevin Iole’s February 23, 2012 Yahoo! Sports article entitled "Lightweight contender Benson Henderson’s Clark Kent image might soon become Superman."
In Iole’s article, Henderson was explaining how he keeps his focus firmly on the pursuit of ultimate perfection, and therefore keeps building on his already amazing level of fighting skills. According to Iole, because of Henderson’s practice of honestly assessing his abilities and pushing himself beyond his self-imposed limitations, the electrifying fighter actually “gets to be Superman by not being overly impressed by himself.”
The balanced life perspective that Henderson displays is particularly impressive since resisting the strong urge to become overly impressed with ourselves in the face of constant public praise can be one of our most daunting off-the-field challenges. That’s why we should all heed Henderson’s success formula.
It’s especially hard to resist hiding behind your brand image if you’ve created a heroic public persona to help you cope with the “virtual fantasy world” occupied by celebrities in general, as former NBA star Gilbert Arenas did with his Agent Zero “disguise.” In a February 20, 2012 SI.com article by Sam Amick entitled "Arenas opens up after lengthy hiatus from league, media (Pt. 1)"
, Arenas candidly explained why he struggled to stay level-headed, and how he allowed his public and private selves to blend too closely together, ultimately distorting his personal decision-making to a self-destructive degree.
Said Arenas: “NBA is fantasy. Sports are fantasy. Driving around in all the new cars and jewelry and all of this -- that's fantasy. And if you can't escape, then you lose yourself. If you can't get home, can't escape that world, you lose yourself in it because fans, media -- they can't decipher between the two. They don't realize there's two different people. Like Lady Gaga, that's the image she's giving you guys, but when she's at home, she's a normal person. And when she's in the public eye, that's who she is. When I was in the public eye, I was Agent Zero. When I'm home, and I'm away from everybody, I'm me. And I felt when ‘me’ got attacked with that felony charge; I didn't know how to react with that one.
“Like when you get in a trouble -- it's not like I got in trouble in the regular world. I didn't get in trouble in the regular world. I got in trouble in my fantasy world.”
According to Arenas, “Someone close to me told me I lost myself a long time ago when I invented Agent Zero, and I didn’t understand what the person was talking about at the time. He’s like, ‘You were basically on the road down anyway; the image you were putting out meant you were going to get killed at some point.’ Now it’s like, ‘Yeah, you were right.’”
Now that Arenas is working on regaining his lost perspective (according to Amick’s article), we’d all be well advised to combine the “what-not-to-do” lessons that he has taught us with the “what-to-do” lessons provided by Henderson.
The key to really grasping these lessons from these two sports stars is to focus primarily, as Henderson does, on loving what you’re doing and constantly working hard to master doing it. Even Arenas seems to be happier now that he’s returned to focusing on his love for basketball instead of occupying his mind so much with the other issues that accompany being a top athlete.
So if you’ve found yourself losing your perspective in the midst of all the distractions that can steal your attention, your best bet is to refocus on the fact that you wouldn’t be where you are without being a student of your sport, right along with maintaining enough strength, stamina, and skill to keep performing at peak levels. In the final analysis, this is what the real journey is about for a top-level athlete, as Henderson’s summary comments below universally suggest, although he was speaking only as a mixed martial arts competitor.
“As professional fighters, we’ve been blessed with certain advantages, some gifts, that other people might not have been,” Henderson said. “But the important thing to realize as you get more and more success is to remember how you got there.
“I got here a day at a time, working hard when nobody knew who I was. The fans see me what, three, four, maybe five times a year? That’s only when I fight. But every day, I’m there in the gym pushing to get better. It’s the alter ego, the regular Joe, who understands that you’re never perfect and you’re never the superstar and that there is always a way to improve, to get better. That’s how I try to live.”
So should we all.