Of the many tools for building a passionate life, role models are some of the handiest. You can use them for making big plans and small decisions alike. Try them to unstick yourself. Bring them out when you’ve made a mistake.
Here’s a simple way to do it that takes about 10 minutes.
Step 1. Get a role model.
If you already have a good role model, skip down to Step 2. If you don’t have a good role model, think of it this way: is there anyone you look up to? If not, skip down to Step 4.† If so, then consider that person your role model.
For extra credit, jot down all the people you admire, even dead ones, using this criterion: they do what you do (or want to do), and better in some way. Choose one of them for this exercise. Come back later and try it again with the others on your list.
Step 2. Figure out your role model’s role.
Can you hear Mr. Brennan, my 7th grade shop teacher? He’s yelling at the top of his raspy voice, “A chisel is not a screw driver!” While it’s true a chisel is okay as a screwdriver; or a ninja weapon, a doorstop, a percussion instrument, or a tent stake in a protest encampment; or in an emergency to short circuit an elevator that has gone haywire; or rolled down a hill in a race with other chisels; a chisel is best used as a chisel.
Likewise, because you admire someone doesn’t make her your role model for every part of your life.
Also, continuing the chisel comparison, you may not like chisels that much in general, but they are sure good at chiseling. You don’t have to admire everything about someone to make her your role model for a particular role.
You need to find the right role for your role model. Try this fill-in-the-blank thingy. Remember, this role model does something you do, or want to do, so consider carefully how they do it really well. Write it down.
I admire (your role model’s name)
because, as a (role) ,
she/he (does what?) .
Do you buy it? Are you convinced that your role model has something vital to offer you? Is this something you do or might do, and can do? If not, go back to Step 1.
Step 3. Ask your role model,
“what would you do?”
Simulating is almost as good as doing the real thing. (More on that in another article.) With simulations there is nothing to lose because it’s all in your head so you can take big risks without consequences.
Try this out: Start with a small decision you need to make soon that your role model would be good at making. Close your eyes and visualize yourself in the situation leading up to the decision. Step through each moment in as much detail as you can. In your imagination, just before you make the decision, turn your head to the side and notice your role model standing next to you, observing carefully.
Pause to take a breath, and ask your role model, “What would you do?”
When you get an answer, any answer, especially a surprising one, continue the simulation, and try it out. If it feels like a good idea, replay the simulation a bunch of times; practice until you have it down.
(It could be that the answer changes each time. What’s that like?)
At the age of six, I had a crush on Davy Jones. I wanted to sing like him. Frank Zappa knew that Davy Jones was a role model when he gave him this advice:
“You should spend more time on [your music] because the youth of America depends on you to show the way.”
That’s what Frank Zappa would do. Davy Jones is no longer my role model, but Frank Zappa sure is. Here’s how I put it:
“I admire Frank Zappa because, as an Artist, he spent a lot of time doing his work.”
And how others put it:
“I admire my grandfather because, as a Warrior, he had the courage I need to fight my illness.”
- Pilot Fire Client
“Actors I admire? Ed Harris … he always had to fight being what he looked like …”
- Anthony Hopkins, Actor, Silence of the Lambs
“I admired [Marqurite Story’s] straight-forwardness honesty and courage in dealing with some of the challenges she faced as a woman in a man’s world.”
- Maurice Tuarek, Cook Islands Moari Language Teacher
“I admire Mark Zuckerberg [as an Entrepreneur] … for not selling out.”
- Steve Jobs, to biographer Walter Isaacson
“I admire Jodie Foster. Her head is screwed on really well. It’s not loose at all.”
- Thora Birch, Actor, American Beauty
As an Artist, what would Frank Zappa do when faced with song and dance? As an Woman in a Man’s World, how would Marqurite Story deal with challenges? What would Jodie Foster do if her head unscrewed?
We’ll never know because it’s not about them. It’s about us. Role models help us realign with what it means to be our best.
Asking, ‘what would they do?’ helps us decide, ‘what will I do right now?’
Perhaps, right now, you’ll decide to enjoy this simulation:
†Yes, there is no Step 4. If you there’s really nobody you look up to, please just let me know how you get by.
*To understand how the term “role” is used throughout this site, go here.