Why a good role model can change you for the better, & inspire you to be a good role model too

Our role models remind us to look forward and to believe anything is possible, even when the going gets tough.

By Catherine Eden

Who do you admire, and why? If you cast your mind back over the years, you’ll probably find several people you looked up to.

Some may have left such an indelible mark that they continue to influence your choices today. A wise grandmother, a brilliant teacher, that person in your community who was courageous in adversity.

The term ‘role model’ was coined in the 1950s by sociologist Robert Merton, and originally had a narrower meaning.

A role model would be someone accomplished, such as a surgeon or master craftsman, who embodied the requirements of a job and could teach you specific skills.

This is still one definition of the term, a variation of which is found in the workplace, where leadership styles are modelled and where teams quickly adapt to the corporate culture.

But generally, we understand a role model to be someone who displays internal qualities we admire; whose example is encouraging and positive; who represents what is possible to aim for; and whose story and conduct are inspirational.

The interesting thing about positive role models is that, just because they are right in front of us, that doesn’t mean their influence will rub off.

Parents are our earliest role models, but regardless of whether they are good or bad, children from the same family often turn out quite differently. Who we decide to emulate has more to do with our interests and goals.

According to an academic paper entitled The Motivational Theory of Role Modeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals, role models don’t exist without ‘role aspirants’. These are people who make active, although not necessarily always conscious or deliberate, choices about whose footsteps in which to follow, based on their own values and goals.

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Just as leaders do not exist without followers, role models do not exist without role aspirants.

What this means is that you will choose your role models based on attributes you recognise in them, partly because they are the same attributes you are developing in yourself.

The people who have gone before can offer a road map to your goal, advice for the journey, and encouragement to stay the course and never give up.

They may be historical figures whose work you read, or living mentors whose practical example is a daily inspiration.

They may be family members who taught you your values and most important life lessons. Anyone can be a role model. Most of us probably already have at least one person who sees us in that light.

Role models are particularly helpful in times of trouble. How did they navigate dark days? What resources did they draw on?

What can they teach you about endurance, courage, focus and hope? For example, Michelle Obama’s famous line, “When they go low, we go high” might give you strength to avoid being pulled into conflict and drama.

Remembering how 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore raised a fortune and inspired a nation may be all you need to put your vision for change into action.

Simply asking yourself what your role model would do or say in a particular situation might help you to make a wiser choice.

So how do you become a role aspirant? Think about the many facets of your life, then think about the people you know who shine in those areas.

Who can help you sharpen your skills? Who is always open to possibility and could expand your frame of thinking? Who is such an inspiration that their example keeps you focused on your goals?

Watch them, appreciate them, talk to them if possible and learn everything you can from them, because one of these days the person providing wisdom and encouragement to others will be you.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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