League of Everyday Heroes: Ellie Jacques, Part 1
Hero Town is very proud to introduce the League of Everyday Heroes! In this segment, we sit down with some awesome individuals and find out what makes them tick. In the very special first edition, we spoke with Hero Town’s co-vice president and world-class hero trainer, Ellie Jacques.
Ellie has recently relocated to Geelong from Michigan in the United States. Those of you who attended our launch events and early training sessions would certainly remember the energy and passion she brings to the team.
How would you describe your work?
There’s a few different terms I use to give people context – a resilience strategies instructor or a challenge resilience trainer, for example. But I like to call myself a Hero Trainer. It starts a conversation because people are like, what is that? I help people to take action in their lives to address mental health challenges and make positive changes for other people and themselves. I use the Hero’s Journey to illustrate the process of change working with people dealing with addiction, or adjusting to life outside prison. I find that the Hero’s Journey gives an emotional depth to that story and shows us how small changes like what time you wake up, diet, and so on are part of a larger change.
What is the biggest lesson you have taken from Flint and your journey into heroism?
I arrived in Flint, Michigan completely by accident when I applied for a job. I was disempowered, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I had a serendipitous meeting with Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. He asked me if I wanted to do heroism trainings, so I became an educator for his organisation, the Heroic Imagination Project. Learning about heroism and spreading that knowledge to others saved me from those thoughts of worthlessness. I made a courageous response to my feelings of disempowerment in a really meaningful way.
I had to learn that I’m not personally responsible for the successes and failures of my students. It’s up to them what they do with the knowledge we create together. The other lesson is just how important working through our own mental challenges is to making our world and the worlds of others a better place I love this saying from Fr. Greg Boyle, who is a gang member reintegration and healing specialist: “When you transform your trauma, you no longer transmit it to your community.” Your life affects other people and your community drastically. When people realise they can change their community by making themselves better, they become Agents of Change. They become a sponsor, or ensure their kids won’t be addicts – they realise they can be the solution. They understand, “I am making the world a better place by working on myself.”
How would you define a hero? Do you define an “everyday hero” differently?
A hero is a person who creates change that benefits themselves, the community, the world but ultimately the greater good. You have to be working on yourself so you can positively impact others. As for everyday heroes, I don’t think of a person being a hero. I think of a person who did a heroic act. Intention behind that act is important, I think.
Living a heroic life is different from a heroic act because it means doing little good things everyday that are compassionate, empathetic and kind. These little things can be picking up trash, smiling at somebody, or having a courageous conversation with a friend and de-escalating a situation. That improves the world and makes you as a person more focused, more prepared for that moment that calls for definitive heroic action.
Heroism isn’t necessarily any more important than everyday heroism. Everyday heroes act on small things that could otherwise be let go and address situations before things escalate.
What does it mean to you to live a heroic life?
It means living a life of purpose. A heroic life looks different for everyone, but the common denominator is living it for other people and mastering yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll and have no self control and then you can’t be effective. Everyone is entitled to live a happy life, so it’s important to grow yourself and translate those skills into your role or purpose. Everyone has their own type of hero they want to be based on their strengths and weaknesses; social heroism is my thing. It’s important to do little good things everyday that are compassionate, empathetic, and express kindness. However, it’s also important to take care of yourself. We need to exercise self-care and avoid burn-out. Everyone (including everyday heroes) is entitled to live a happy life.
How much risk has to be involved before you would consider an act to be heroic?
There are different types of risk – social, financial, time, physical, mental. Perceived risk is very real and can prevent people from taking heroic action. I think risk needs to be involved but risk is always there because heroic action is always sacrificing something. Maybe I have a broader scope of risk than others, but what’s the point of taking someone’s hero away because they didn’t risk enough?
Who are your heroes and what makes them heroic to you?
There were two Catholic nuns who founded the organization where I did hero training in Flint. They always listened to the people they were helping without passing judgement. Sister Carol and Sister Judy always challenged people to improve themselves without forcing their beliefs onto people. I’m not religious, but they’re the only people I’ve really witnessed living like Jesus did. I admire them because they have their values in front of them in full focus, and live those values every single day.
I’m a big admirer of Edward Snowden, who was a whistleblower on the NSA back in 2013. He had his values in front of him as well, and he stuck to those values at great cost to him.
I also love Harry Potter. In general, I identify with his struggle and growth process. I admire him because he’s a good friend, pure hearted and always strives for the greater good. Harry sacrificed himself for the people he loved and walked into death’s arms – that’s the ultimate act of courage. He makes me feel courageous about my own existential doubts.
What are your values?
I’m strongly focused on independence, awe and exploration, as well as social connection. Health and wellness is also very important to me, not just physical but mental and emotional too. I continually have that at the forefront, and working on that. Wellness is very key in living a heroic life and maximising yourself as a heroic being.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
It would be to have a brain that’s very much like a computer. In the sense that I could organise information, save it and forget it when I don’t need it. Then I could access it with complete accuracy whenever I needed it. I think that would be really cool.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of the League of Everyday Heroes where we talk with Ellie about her own Hero’s Journey and her top self-care tips.