Shadow of Darkness by Dick Grayson (aka. Robin)
It’s hard being in second place. If you’re the second sibling, you don’t get nearly the attention growing up that the first-born does. If you’re second in the Olympics, people don’t remember your name as well as if you took first. And nobody hands you a medal for being the second best guitar player in the world… although, truth be told, that one would still be pretty cool.
Why are we talking about being number two? Because today our guest on Character Coaching has spent his entire life being in second place. We’re talking about Dick Grayson, the titular sidekick to playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne — although you might know them by other names.
At the moment, Grayson is feeling a little lost. He’s not exactly sure of who he is when he’s helping Bruce at his job… or, put another way, he doesn’t know who he’ll be when his mentor finally retires and gives Grayson the reins. What kind of leader is he going to become? Will he conduct his work in the same way Wayne does? Or does it make sense to try and strike out on his own and forge an entirely new path for himself?
We decided to get in touch with Grayson and ask him these questions. We’ve catalogued his responses below so that you might get something out of our communications… buckle up, strap in and spread your wings, because we’re going in.
Grayson’s first journal entry: shadow of darkness
“Since I was a kid I was trained to be more than what I am. More than a man, more than a mask, I was supposed to be something that symbolizes hope in those who need it, and fear in those who would take that hope away.
Truth is, I don’t feel like I symbolize much of anything without my mentor. I’m his shadow, going wherever he goes to fight crime and to make the streets safer. So when he’s gone, when it’s just me left in this fight… who will I be?
I know I won’t be the sidekick forever, but how do you discover who you are when that’s all you’ve ever been?” — Dick G.
First impressions: second banana to the main dish
Well, this journal is one hundred percent dark and mysterious… but it’s also one hundred percent relatable. I mean, who hasn’t spent time being second banana to the main dish? All of us have likely had a time in our lives where we had to adjust to being second in command… that, or we’ve felt like we’re a supporting actor in someone else’s show.
The thing is, while it’s normal to feel that way, all of us inhabit many different roles in our lives — sure, we might feel like we’re second in command at work, but do we feel that way when we’re at home with our family? Or maybe it’s the other way around: some of us feel like the overlooked member of our family, but we’re on top of the world the moment we step into the office.
Whatever the case is, it’s natural to want to “control” how others look at us in situations like these. When we perceive that we’re not being recognized for all our wonderful qualities, our natural reaction is to start questioning who we really are. After all, if other people don’t see us how we want to be seen, then how are we supposed to see ourselves?
This is a tricky road to go down. When we keep reinforcing the fact that we’re second-rate to someone else, we behave in ways that further concrete our position as a sidekick. Alternatively, when we start thinking about ourselves as the first banana in our own lives — instead of all this second banana business — new opportunities open up before us. Instead of worrying what others think about us, we start to feel a little more grounded and confident in who we are.
So, in order to get Dick out of this funk he’s currently in, let’s ask him some follow-up questions. What I’d like to know is: what kind of identity has Grayson developed even under someone else’s shadow? And perhaps even more importantly, who was he hoping to be when he began this position as a… mask-wearing vigilante? Let’s pose those questions now and see what we get back.
- What identity have you developed as a sidekick?
- Who were you hoping you’d be when you started?
Next: learning how to be first banana
“This was years ago, but when I started I wanted to be just like my mentor. He seemed to always have the answer, could solve any puzzle, overcome any obstacle. Then I realized how much he was losing himself to the job, how he put everything secondary to his missions. That isn’t who I am. I believe in the greater good but not at the expense of everything. When I suit up it’s to protect the people I care about. I have my own team and they need a leader who will always have their back, just like I’ve watched out for my mentor. If he’s vengeance, then I’m a protector.”
With this follow-up journal, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of not only who Dick is, but who he wants to be, too. What immediately stands out is that by understanding who his mentor is, he knows who he doesn’t want to be. I mean, how much clearer can you get about your future than saying, “If he’s vengeance, then I’m a protector”?
That’s especially interesting, considering just one journal ago Grayson was talking about how he wasn’t sure who he’d be once his mentor was offstage. As it turns out, it seems like Grayson actually has a pretty clear idea about who he is, and also what his future looks like. And that’s just by looking at the contrast between his and his teacher’s differences!
This is something you can do in your own life, too. If you’ve never tried it, start thinking of experiences, people or situations you don’t want more of in your life. Think about what repels you from those things, and then start thinking about the opposite of those things. By finding out what you don’t like, you’ll be able to set a better course toward all the things you do like. So, that would be my first piece of advice to you… and also to Grayson.
The other thing I’m noticing here is that Grayson might be spending a little too much time on the job. It seems as though he values people who don’t get completely lost in their work, because a work-life balance is important to him. That might also contribute to his feeling of being second banana to someone else: if he’s spending all his time working for someone else, he doesn’t get to enjoy being the number one person in his personal life — with friends, family or even a romantic lover.
In response, I’d ask Grayson a few more follow-up questions. First, I’d want to know if he thinks his identity necessarily needs to be tied to somebody else just to have meaning. And I’d also be curious to know what branching out and doing his own thing would feel like to him. Would it feel natural, or might being “second banana” be his way of acting naturally… in other words, is being second banana Grayson’s first banana?
These are the questions…
- Do you believe that identity has to be tied to someone else to be meaningful?
- How do you feel when you’re acting as a leader vs. acting a sidekick?
The check-in: the bird flies from it's nest
“Thanks for replying to my journals so quickly, I know I post at really weird hours. Part of the job. A perk is that it gives me a lot of time to think. When I’m leading I don’t have any doubt about who I am, but when I’m playing my role as second-fiddle it’s when I feel antsy about my role… I think I may have outgrown this position. I started so young and I’ve always been under the wing of someone bigger and stronger, but that’s not who I am anymore. I can do things my way and get the job done, without completely shutting myself out from the rest of life. I think maybe it’s time to spread my wings and try to fly on my own.”
This is why I’m glad we do so many follow-ups with everyone who journals with us: because even as coaches, we don’t always know the full situation until we’ve spoken with someone for a while. For instance, I was wondering if maybe Grayson was okay with being a sidekick forever… when it’s clear now that where he actually feels comfortable is in a leadership position.
It seems Grayson is finally outgrowing his position as second in command, and now he’s going through the natural growing pains of that “transition” phase so many of us have to navigate. Now that he’s leveled up in his career, he’s ready to take those next steps toward becoming a larger part of the business. He’s developing skills that no longer fit the role of a second-banana-man, so it only makes sense that it’s time to strike out on his own.
One last important thing I’d like to point out before we go is that this entire transition has been motivated by excitement rather than fear. Grayson is inspired by what the future holds for him, rather than afraid of what he’d become if he didn’t shake things up. That’s really crucial, because when we’re able to take the reins and take charge of our own lives, we’re happy and interested in our futures.
On the other hand, when we’re pushed into a position or led to believe that we’ll “miss out” on something if we don’t make a change, we’re not excited about the future… we’re just afraid of what will happen if things aren’t different. That’s an important life lesson, and it’s one I’m happy Grayson discovered all by himself — whether he’s first, second, third or even last banana.
Alright. Enough banana talk. Or, if you haven’t had enough of it, you might want to just listen to our entire podcast episode on the subject… because we go pretty bananas in it.
(I promise I’m done now.)