My Hero Complex: when “no” becomes “yes”

Before I could say yes and really mean it, I had to learn how to say no…because saying “no” sets us free to say “yes.”

A few years ago my church asked me to consider joining their youth ministry team. They had a lot of strong guy leaders, but not a lot of strong girls who could lead and be an example to the younger girls. They said I was the person they were looking for, and didn’t know of someone else to ask.

To be honest, my ego was flattered, which made me want to say yes simply because of my pride. (Embarrassingly enough.)

And I wanted to help — there was an obvious need, one that I could fill, and would probably enjoy.

But over the weeks leading up to that point, God had been putting in my heart a desire to travel and speak — starting very small. There’d be no limelight, no huge audience; it’d mean leaving my job, apartment, and comfort zone. But I really felt this was the way I was supposed to go.

The youth leader position would provide what felt like a sort of limelight — in a large church, in a visible position. It was tempting. It also would keep me in my comfort zone: doing something not too different from what I’d already done, keeping me in my current job and apartment.

But after talking with my mentors, I was sure: I had to say no to this wonderful opportunity.

I felt bad about it, but I said “no” in the most gracious, respectful way I could.

A year later, coming back from the grassroots tour, I was full of life, knowing that had been the right decision. I caught up with one of the pastors who oversaw the youth ministry at my church.

She said that at first they weren’t sure who else to ask when I said “no,” but then half a dozen younger women each took on a portion of what I would have done. The pastors were able to disciple these women, and teach them how to be leaders.

My “no” was a “yes” for six other women.

And not only was it a “yes” for them, but saying “no” to being a youth leader also set me free to say “yes” to what God had put in my heart to do.

John Maxwell says it this way:

“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.” 

I need to remember to look at the flip side of the word “no.” In some ways, this word is like a coin with two sides. One side is “no,” and one is “yes.”

When I have said “no” to one thing, I have been given the opportunity to say “yes” to something else.

I don’t know if it always works that way; I’m still quite young, only in my twenties. But I’m learning that I don’t have to say “yes” to everything. (Nor can I say “yes” to everything.)

That being said, there are times I should say “yes” to things I don’t particularly want to do.

Sometimes I have to do what I hate, in order to do what I love. 

In our culture, we often hear about doing what you love. But doing what you hate??

Between my grassroots tours, I substitute teach. I hate it. But I do my best at it, try to enjoy it, and choose to do it so I can pay off my student loans between tours. Once my loans are paid off, I will be even more free to do what I love!

Here’s what I’m trying to say: Sometimes we have to say “yes” to things we don’t want to do. However, there are moments when we are asked to give more than we have to give. In those moments, it’s easy to take on a “hero complex.” To think that you have to say yes, because you’re the only person who can do it.

Have you ever thought these things?

  • If I say no, it won’t get done.
  • If I say no, they won’t like me anymore.
  • If I say no, it will hurt someone else.

I’ve heard it said that each of us have been given something that only we can do. I understand what people mean by that. God’s put unique desires and gifts in each of our hearts, that He hasn’t given to everyone else. But I also think that the idea of being “the only one who can do something” is false and leads to a harmful “hero complex.”

Esther 4:14 gets me on this every time. Her uncle Mordecai begs her to ask the king to spare the lives of the Israelites. She’s afraid to go in to the king without being called for, because she could very well be killed for that. Mordecai tells her:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

She was in a special position, and God had brought her there for just such a time, to use her in saving His people! What an exciting thing to be part of!

But it also says, plain and clear — if she didn’t do it, someone else would.

Being the only person who can do something? Jesus is the only One who can say that.

We don’t have to carry the “hero complex.” In fact, we shouldn’t.

Our “no” can in fact be someone else’s “yes,” as well as freeing us up to say “yes” to something else.

It takes discernment to know when to say “no” and when to say “yes,” which is why I often talk with my mentors before deciding which to say. But I’m learning that both can be equally powerful and wonderful words.


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