Top Gun’s the kind of movie that inspires us to drive our cars like they’re meant to fly. “It’s not the plane; it’s the pilot,” I think to myself as I shift from fourth gear to fifth, willing my Mazda 3 heavenward. But to my surprise, I’ve yet to experience liftoff. Maverick’s story is epic: a hero born with rugged skill and scrappy impetus. It’s entertaining, exciting and dramatic.
words + photographs PHILIP HERZOG
And in full transparency, it can be hard to relate. Many stretches in life feel very un-Mavericky.
I often feel grounded, somber or uninspired compared to the F-18s around me, especially when I’m faced with my own lack-of-lift. You probably have your own Mazda 3-to-fighter jet comparisons, and from what I can tell, they usually follow our absolute best or worst experiences.
In terms of seeking my gifting and vocation, my journey has not been linear (and is certainly in progress). After years of opportunities to explore my strengths in different professions and settings, successfully becoming a first-generation graduate, and fostering a community of loving friends and family, I was still searching.
Even in the midst of so many opportunities, I began to hold onto disparaging beliefs. “What do you know? Not enough,” I would tell myself. That became an answer to many questions. “What are you skilled at? I’m decent, but so many others are better.”
Or I’d think generally, “What do you love to do? What makes you unique and lights you up? Not even sure.” Some call it imposter syndrome — others, insecurity — even more, a lack of efficacy.
(1) Philip Herzog believes his wife, Claire, is truly a maverick and says each of us needs to find a companion who will inspire. (2) “Sometimes the lows can take us to crawlspaces,” says Philip. “No matter how low you go, don’t forget to lean on a friend.” (3) Surrounded by a party of balloons, Philip insists ideas matter. “Invest in the ones that light you up,” he says.
As I pursued answers and looked at opportunities, I prayed for God’s guidance and sought mentorship. And with good advice and solid relationships, those bad ideas still grew deeper. I didn’t feel like I was doing what I was built to do, and my hunt for vocation became confusing. I was distressed by a world with broken systems, hurt even more by COVID-19, while wrestling with losses impacting me and my communities.
While I knew I was gifted in building relationships, connecting people’s passions with purpose, and creatively communicating, I had no clue about where I belonged. Then, out of the blue, a friend took me out for coffee. While we caught up, she noticed my defeat. As good friends do, she asked a question. “Philip, where’s your passion? Your fire? You’re always so full of conviction — we have to get it back!”
Her comments tipped a line of dominoes that had been long in the making. I’d realized on the journey of change and challenge, grief and gain, I’d let the joy and hope dwindle. I was focused more on lift than direction. I wasn’t offended; I was made curious, and it was the right spark to burn the cobwebs in my brain.
In loss and insecurity, we usually say to ourselves (and less bluntly to others), “There’s nothing more for me. There’s little point in moving on. What am I without what I’ve lost?” And in the highs and confidence, we think, “Look at what I’ve done! This all came from me!”
I consider this the movie star narrative, where all experiences, good or bad, are filtered through the lens of the singular me. And I’ll be honest, it’s my great character flaw.
I could blame marketing, media, or Meta, but if I’m honest, my daily thoughts, motivations, and decisions almost always have more to do with me than others. Same for my tasks and goals. And my lack of imagination or investment in others is an expense. The expense detracts from an active faith in a loving God, the minimization of inspiration, and a lack of faith in the people and opportunities around me.
I’d realized on the journey of change and challenge, grief and gain, I’d let the joy and hope dwindle.
Of course, there’s a healthy way to “self-care,” seeking good food, good times, and good friends. That’s healing and wholesome, something to celebrate. But, for all the time I spend doing things for me, I often find myself reevaluating the return on investment (ROI). When my focus and world is invested 80 percent in me, it does not contribute to 80 percent of my fulfillment. When my attention is invested 20 percent in loving and serving others, it leads to far more than 20 percent of my fulfillment.
My journey, while ongoing, rarely resembles an F-18 blasting toward mission. None of us have the monopoly on lift. But as the Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy Kingdom Come,” so maybe I don’t have to aim my Mazda heavenward. Even the first Top Gun came with a disclaimer: “It takes a lot more than just flying fancy.” As you build your life, remember a Maverick can be measured many ways. Consider your own story: Where do you get the best ROI?
Philip Herzog is an empathetic listener, invested communicator, and enthusiastic connector. His wife, family, and friends ground him and fuel his philanthropic “Why” for southwest Missouri.
COVER: Philip Herzog and his friend Bambie were excited to be part of StoryCorps’ Mobile Tour when it stopped in the Ozarks last spring. “If we only look at our story, we lose something,” says Philip.
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