Following the recent comments made by Arianny Celeste about UFC champion Ronda Rousey, it got me thinking a bit about role models in general.
There are many people who I admire. I often look at someone doing something well – whether it’s a skill they have, their character, personal attributes, how they carry themselves or live their life – and think ‘I’d like to be a bit more like that’. In that one specific way, I’d like to emulate how they do things.
The danger, though, is that in trying to present a total image of themselves that’s consistent with the way we’d like to see them, our role models sometimes seem under pressure to become one dimensional caricatures trapped inside their own hype. When we don’t see the struggles and the mistakes, the weaknesses, contradictions and the failures that are hidden behind the mask, it’s easy to believe that these people are fundamentally different from us. They become an idol to worship, rather than a human being with characteristics to aspire to. Then there’s the inevitable disappointment when we catch a glimpse of the real person, who’s always less perfect than we imagined her to be.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” – the Wizard of Oz
I’ve sometimes been called a role model, and I’m always flattered. I’m grateful for the people who write to me telling me that I’ve inspired them (or their daughter) to do something, or to believe they can achieve their own goals, or helped them during a tough time. It makes what I do feel worthwhile, and it also gives me something to live up to – an inspiration to carry on trying to do better. I appreciate that. And yet, the last thing I want is to be put on any kind of pedestal.
We’re all more complicated than that. Real people aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, heroes or villains. There are things I do well; and my best is pretty good. There are also plenty of things I do badly, and times when I’m a total disaster area. In some ways I might be a good example to follow (depending on what you want out of life) but in others ways, much less so. I don’t say that either out of false modesty or (heaven forbid) low self esteem. It’s reality, and it’s true of all of us. Some of the characteristics that allowed me to achieve the things I’ve done are the very same traits that have led me to mess up in other areas of life. I’m still living, and learning, making mistakes and trying to figure things out as best I can. So are we all, including our role models.
The best advice I can offer?
“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland