In uncertain times, it can be hard to stay courageous and keep moving forward on a rocky path with unforeseen twists and turns. Sometimes, we need help to muster up the courage to keep going and facing the unknown.
While I always recommend asking someone you trust for support, a role model can also encourage and inspire you. When someone has achieved something you admire, it allows you to say to yourself: “If they were able to do it, so can I!” — For example, whenever I feel lonely in my lockdown for one, sad that I have only had six face-toface catch-ups with friends over the past fifteen weeks, I think of Nelson Mandela. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. I have visited his cell. It’s tiny, with barely the most basic amenities. Remembering his courage to survive these extreme circumstances is my effective reality check.
Have you got a role model? If so, who is it? If you don’t have one, chances are you may have just thought of someone who seemingly cracked the life mastery code, a powerful superhero or superheroine to look up to. And while putting someone on a pedestal seems to be the most natural thing to do, it can actually have the opposite effect. Why? Because a superhero/ine role model can discourage you and set up unrealistic expectations, impossible to fulfil. Fact is, everyone has faults, their kryptonite, which becomes obvious when the cracks of imperfection show. Should the pedestal topple and should you not have allowed for this to happen, your mind is likely to draw the wrong conclusion: “If they are flawed, what chance do I have to make it?”
So being aware of your role model’s humanness allows you to stay realistic in the expectations you place on yourself. Nelson Mandela was far from perfect and continued to be an absent father after he was released from prison. — Yes, he lacked parenting skills, but that’s not my focus. What inspires me is his courage that allowed him to emerge from 27 years of solitary confinement with his sanity intact.
My invitation? Rethink your definition of a role model.
First of all, replace the image of a superhero/ine with that of a courageous, average human being; with someone who has demonstrated what an ordinary person can achieve. Secondly, especially if they are alive and well, consider that they are work in progress. They may have overcome the challenges you are grappling with, walking the path a few steps ahead of you, but they too are still on the journey. Like everyone else, they are still learning. In fact, someone who owns their mistakes and failures is a far better role model than someone who never falters, who has a sleek, carefully edited social media persona and who conquers life seemingly without effort. Like glossy magazines, they are bad for your self-esteem.
These are unprecedented times, they are also not unique in their requirements to get through them. Human beings have always been able to overcome adversities with incredible courage.
Here is a little exercise: Think of a person you admire. They can be historical, famous or not, a family member or friend. Write down three of their qualities you admire. Now write down three situations where they demonstrated these qualities. I bet you, these were not easypeasy but challenging situations where they demonstrated these qualities to manage difficult external circumstances.
Last but not least: If you believe that a role model has to be another person, think again. Be your own role model. When you look back on your life, I am sure you will be able to find challenges you overcame; where you felt fear and discouragement; where you stumbled and may have even fallen. Where you got up, had the courage to ask for help, dusted yourself off and kept going. — Take a moment to reflect and then create a list of these achievements. Keep it handy for the times when you need to boost your courage. Add to it whenever you overcome another challenge.— As Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
These are challenging times. They too shall pass. Keep going.
And if you need a helping hand, please remember to reach out.