Heroic action—like talking down a school shooter or jumping onto train tracks to rescue someone—often happens in a matter of seconds. But what you don’t always see is the months, years, or even decades of preparation that came before those fleeting heroic moments.
Most of the time, readying yourself to respond in a crisis situation takes work, which might come as a surprise if you think of heroes as special, chosen, or just born that way. None of the work is glamorous, either. The main thing you need to hone your heroic potential is consistent practice, not unlike the extra hours you’d put in before a big test or soccer game.
Consider the feats of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who’s profiled in The Life Heroic. In 2009, this now-retired US Airways captain landed his plane seemingly with ease on New York’s Hudson River after flying geese knocked out both his engines, leaving the plane without power. After the plane landed, it started taking on water, and Sullenberger left the waterlogged aircraft only after making sure every passenger had gotten out.
But there was an important part of the story that many news reports didn’t mention. For every one of the critical minutes Sullenberger guided the plane to a safe landing, he’d logged countless hours of practice. A pilot for more than four decades, Sullenberger had flown planes in all kinds of conditions. He also had special training in how to fly gliders, which are essentially planes without engines. In short, everything he’d experienced in his career—every problem he’d solved on the fly—prepared him to land a damaged plane on the spur of the moment.
Were Sullenberger’s heroic actions truly effortless? Far from it. But they were well within reach, given the kind of training he’d had. The preparation phase of a heroic journey is seldom the part that makes headlines. Without it, though, many headlines would never have been made in the first place.