Role models are everywhere. Some are worthy of the term, others are thrust into the role for whatever reason and are not worthy of emulation by any stretch of the imagination. Yet it is human nature for all of us to seek out role models. We all want to see ourselves reflected in the faces of others who are successful and “just like us”.

Think of some pivotal moments in history where a whole new world opened up for a certain segment of the population just because they could finally see someone “just like them” out there in the world succeeding. Consider Obama being the first black President. Remember the day Billie Jean King won “The Battle of the Sexes” and women athletes everywhere breathed a sigh of “I told you so” and celebration at the same time? How about when Ellen Degeneres came out on national television? The list can go on and on, but what holds true is that sudden moment of realization that “there are other people like me” and “if they can succeed maybe so can I.”

Role models can be great for your career or business. Finding successful people you admire and respect and that are successful in the way you wish to be can help you tap into that greatness within you. After all if there is one thing that rings clear from my training to do shadow work as a coach is that when we see something we admire in someone else it is just a reflection of our own light shadows, those positive aspects of ourselves that we haven’t yet acknowledged or embraced.

Paradox of Reality
has this excellent post “7 Ways Role Models Influence Your Success”. I love her intro:

Just as water moulds it way into rock, the people we encounter leave their mark on the bedrock of our world too.

As you think of areas in your life that have been influenced or shaped by others, it can seem as if the enriching encounters happen more by luck and good fortune.

When luck is an attitude, you control the influences entering your life. You can cherry pick just the right kind of positive influence on your experiences, actions and thoughts.

The seven ways she presents are really thought-provoking and an excellent discourse on the ways we choose and are influenced by role models. The fact that you will never be your role model is an excellent take away point. I can’t tell you how many times growing up and into early adulthood that I would have a role model in my life, put them on a pedestal, and then have it come crashing down around me when — drum roll — I realized they were human too. That’s the lesson that took me longer than I’d like to admit to learn. Everyone is just human. All those spiritual gurus? Yep, just human too. Celebrities? Once again, just human beings and often even more internally tortured than your average bear because of their status. That super successful business person? Alas, they too are just human too.

Whether we like it or not, this whole role model awestruck thing comes at us from the time we are young girls. We all want someone to look up to. In this post about role models for girls, Between us Girls talks about both the wanted and unwanted role models that pop up in a young girls life.

Too often the message girls get is that they need to be better than they are – prettier, sexier, skinnier, more popular. Somewhere in early adolescence, girls who once followed their hearts and believed they could do, or be, anything, get derailed. They begin to doubt themselves and to try to become what they think they’re supposed to be rather than who they want to be.

To help them to stay true to themselves, as parents we have to help them to see their own value as individuals and to provide them with role models that show them how it’s done. Whether it’s musicians, poets, politicians or a fictional child-spy, girls and women who choose to be who they are and to be proud of it can inspire our daughters to do the same.

Dare I say that this conundrum does not end after you cruise through puberty and become an adult? The message on body image remains the same until you are “old” at which time you just get devalued in this society. The underlying message is that you need to fit in and do things the way others want or expect you to. Anyone on a career track or starting her own business has heard the words “What you need to do if you want to succeed is…”. And when that doesn’t resonate with you a whirlwind of self-doubt, talks of unworthiness, and desperation to succeed sets in once again forcing full-fledged, brilliant, capable, full-grown professional women to do as the daughters do “try to become what they think they’re supposed to be rather than who they want to be”.

Therein lies the REAL paradox of role models. We choose them to enhance our success and confidence but depending on how we relate to them (and ourselves) we can often use them to just compare ourselves unfavorably to others and sell ourselves short over and over, but now in a much more professionally acceptable way.

So, as you go about finding your own role models to emulate, remember that you often do not have to look far and wide to some well-known figure. As misadventures of a small town girl points out:

The women that I count as she-roes are merely women that I have come across in my daily life who are pretty damn amazing. They don’t have assistants, they won’t ever be seen on the front of the tabloids, and they are usually underappreciated and overworked.

They’ve been women who have restarted their lives from the ground after fleeing from an abusive relationship. They’ve been women who seem to have found the perfect work/life balance; being extraordinary PR gurus while being involved in the lives of their babies, too. They’ve been women who were single mothers while getting their own business off the ground, battling everything themselves and succeeding. They’ve been women who have done all of these things on their own, only to find love later and stay independent ass-kicking rockstars. They’ve been women who have always had a kind word for me, or have made themselves available when I’ve needed advice. They’ve been women who have encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if it meant leaving my comfort zone.

I personally feel when it comes to my role models that I am far more interested in who they are as a person than any “thing” they may have accomplished. That is a bigger measure of success in my mind and ensures that you are aligning yourself with the kind of person you aspire to be rather than some fleeting external measure of success.

Photo Credit: stock.xchng

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life coaching for lesbians to help you gain the clarity, confidence, and courage you need to have success on your own terms. Get the free eCourse “5 Steps to Turn Fear Into Freedom” at her website