Role models – and why they don’t work

Holding up a mirror to ourselves I have a theory about role models.

For the last ten years I’ve had the privilege of bringing interesting, inspiring people to the attention of a bunch of folk via talks, interviews, podcasts and blogs. None of them are superstars, none of them are celebs. All of them, in some way, have achieved awesome things.

People who want to bring about some change in their lives are often seen quoting snappy sound bites from long dead heroes or high flyers but rarely make any changes based on these quotes. It seems to be just a knee jerk thing: “Quoting what I want may make it happen without me having to do the work.”

(See previous post “What is it you’re NOT doing?”)

Mystifyingly, the more accessible heroes don’t get quoted but don’t get copied either.

Making changes is uncomfortable and takes a lot of hard work. It often involves people around us having to make changes too.

With so many great role models to inspire us, why is it that none of them seem to work?

Here’s my theory:
Using a dead hero or a seemingly inaccessible celebrity as a role model immediately lets us off the hook. We can’t really aspire to do the same things because those people are too different to us so it’s easy to admire them and quote them (often tiresomely, sickeningly and indiscriminately) without making any attempt to copy them.
On the other hand, people who are similar to us, people we know and have met, who live in in the same world as us and who have achieved things we’d like to achieve, are accessible. There is no real excuse for not copying them, not taking them as role models and yet these people often get ignored – not even quoted!


Because they make us uncomfortable.

We admire them but somehow their success is more like a reproach. They are so much more like us that it should be easy to copy them, easy to make those changes we say we want but it’s hard, so we don’t – but because they are so much like us, there is no excuse – and so we choose to ignore them.

Quoting a celebrity, someone who is different to us,  allows us the illusion that change is possible.
Looking at someone who is the same as us is like holding up a mirror to our ourselves and knowing that we are actively making the decision NOT to change.

That’s why its easier to ignore them.

So, if we profess to be inspired and still take no action, what is the point of looking for more inspiration?

Does it mean that instead of inspiration, instead of looking outside of ourselves, all we really need is to make a decision and take action and that we don’t need role models at all?

Well, that’s my theory anyway. What do you think?