Role models - who needs them?
Children copy those around them. As babies and toddlers they copy their carers. For example, they learn to speak by copying us (that’s why they speak our language). As they grow older they copy their peers, and then are influenced by those they see in the media (social or otherwise).
Sometimes we are happy about this, because that’s how they learn and develop. Sometimes we are less happy, as we see our children picking up bad habits!
But do we ever stop to think about how WE copy those around us?
If we do it unconsciously, then it is chance whether the behaviours and attitudes we adopt are actually what we would choose. We risk creating a vicious circle where we behave in a way that runs counter to our values of what’s important, simply because we associate with those whose behaviour portrays different values. This is true in every aspect of our lives.
How do we choose our role models?
When I think back on my own life experience, I am aware of role models that I unconsciously adopted. They come from three areas of my life, and all of them influenced me in countless little ways.
There was my mother.
I was lucky to grow up in a loving family. My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mum. She took me to and from school every day, and to numerous after school activities. She cooked proper meals and was always there for me. At the same time she ran the household single-handed, organising the multitude of tasks that come with maintaining a fairly large house and garden. She seemed to be able to turn her hand to anything, to always know what to do and to be incredibly resilient in the face of any challenge.
This resilience really came to the fore later on when she found herself suddenly single and almost penniless in her 50s. Having not had a job for over 20 years, and with three children who whilst not wholly dependent on her were certainly not in any position to support her, she turned her hand to a variety of different roles and made a new life for herself.
There were my bosses.
I had two who influenced me hugely. Whilst quite different in personality, what they had common was a core of integrity, competence at their roles and a willingness to give me opportunities and to support me through challenge. I liked and respected them both, and felt the loss when first one and then the other moved out of my working life.
There were the characters in my books.
Not being interested in TV, films or politics, I wasn’t particularly influenced by celebrities. My passion was (and still is) reading. As a child and teenager I spent hours immersed in books, often devouring one or more books in a day. The characters between the pages provided some of my role models, and shaped the kind of person I aspired to be. They were strong, practical, efficient, usually with a strong sense of what was right and a willingness to behave accordingly.
So what have I learned from my role models?
Looking back over my childhood and past decades I can see common threads running through all my role models, and a very strong link to the values that I hold today – duty, loyalty, responsibility, strength of character and resilience.
I’m entirely happy with my long-standing role models, and with the attributes in me that they have strengthened. And yet there are other attributes that I would love to put more emphasis on – fun, adventure, risk-taking, creativity.
Now in my 50s, as I move forward into the next phase of my life, encompassing a career change to self-employment and caring for a sick teenager, I am finding some new role models. Now I look to women who have taken bold steps, who have embraced self-employment and entrepreneurship, who care about the world around them and want to make it a better place, for whom money is important for the security it gives, but not as an end in itself.
How can YOU identify your ideal role models?
There are two ways to tackle this.
The first approach is to get clear on what’s really important to you, and what you want more of in your life. Is it more practicality or more creativity? More responsibility or more frivolity? More gravitas or more informality?
Then find someone who embodies these values, and the behaviour that accompanies them. They can be real people or fictional characters from books or films.
The second approach is to identify people you admire and look up to, whether in your immediate circle or in the wider world of real or imaginary people. What is it you admire in them? What are the values they hold dear, and how does that influence their behaviour?
Who do you aspire to be? And who will be your role model?