I sat in a workshop about six years ago where we addressed the idea of Jews in leadership and how to learn from them and in time, become them.
The facilitator of the workshop urged us to think of our role models and list them along with their strengths and what we would want to take from their leadership styles. Most of the participants nodded and started writing down their role models and I just sat feeling more and more uncomfortable. I just couldn’t think of a single person I could consider a role model.
The facilitator was not impressed that I kept stressing that I really didn’t have one and I wasn’t trying to be obtuse (this particular time) I just really didn’t, and still don’t, like the idea of having role models.
I even doubted myself after that night, and wondered if I wasn’t reaching the pinnacle of success — whatever that is — because I hadn’t chosen any role models. But the thing with role models is that if you are trying to live your best life, how can someone else be your model for how to do it? No one else has the exact same challenges and advantages that you do. In the end, the only fair aspects of a role model to try emulate are their innate ones. And you have those in you already.
Also, when it comes down to it, role models are just people, and boy, people can be disappointing. It is difficult for ‘heroes’ and ‘role models’ today. We have conflated being good at something with being a role model. And, we aspire to, or explain away the character flaws and failures of those we seek to emulate. The world of instant information also discloses the real life of heroes to the world much quicker than it used to and the artifice of perfection is more easily stripped away, leaving disillusion in its wake.
I have found that the best way forward is to use yourself as your yardstick for success. Are you better than you were yesterday? Great! Have you grown since last year? Awesome! The only person you should compare your achievements to is the you of yesterday. This way you can save yourself the impossibility of matching these role models that operate within a totally foreign paradigm.
If role models are seen as a blueprint for success, perhaps we should be designing our own blueprints rather than looking to other people. Each person’s blueprint can be personalised to their set of circumstances, as you would do if you were redesigning your house. You wouldn’t take the blueprint for a block of flats if a two-bedroom suited you better.
Some people say that role models are vital for us psychologically — that striving for their same kind of success and achieving it brings us happiness when we’re older. But I would like to turn that on its head. I think being a role model is vital. If we all behaved as if we were influencing the lives of those around us and had the power to uplift and grow those we know, we would get pretty close to a wonderful world.
So, can we be role models without having any? YES. And I think it would make all the difference.