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The Composite Role Model

Slide1Role models today are more accessible than ever before.  It’s easy to find and even meet people whose behavior we’d like to emulate in our own lives; and social media lets us get a real-time view into the daily thoughts and actions and struggles and achievements of people we admire.

On the flip side, as society becomes increasingly specialized and single sport athletes trump all-around performers, the idea of having one role model who “has it all” is elusive.  This has come up for me most recently as I think about the balance between career and personal/family life, as many of the people who I admire professionally have made personal trade-offs that are misaligned with my core values and world view.

To explore this area, a few months ago, I asked a successful and special friend (and role model of mine) who her role models are, and she did a great job of re-framing the question.  She told me she gave up long ago on the idea of finding one person to look up to…human beings’ personalities and values and life experiences and aspirations are simply too different to make that possible.  Instead of trying to find one person to be her north star, she looks at extreme cases, identifying the very best moms and leaders and friends and creatives she knows and trying to extract a few pieces of wisdom from each of them.

She basically creates a composite role model as part of designing her life.  This is nothing new – it’s what designers to all day long.  They observe and interview not just the everyday “user,” but the end/extreme cases too, and use all of the combined information to inform the product or experience they’re making.  But it’s not always natural to apply this principle to our lives.

I’m now actively using the “composite view,” keep an Evernote file of “amazing people” and keeping a mental list of people who inspire me in specific areas of life.  I can then draw on examples I’ve learned from these people, and surround myself with them (virtually and physically) to give me ideas and motivation.  To name a few, I draw on my mom’s patience as a parent…I try to channel a little bit of my friend Victoria’s focus and commitment and courage as a leader…I value my dad for being a huge “giver” (of his time)…I look up to my sister Megan as a committed athlete…I (virtually) learn from Maria Popova ( about what it means to be a true thinker…I’m inspired by a friend named Shiri who is on a quest to travel every inch of the globe.  Oh, and I think Obama is pretty great too.

How do you find and emulate role models?  Do you have a few who “have it all” (or most of it), or do you use the composite view?  How do role models help you shape your every day?  And have you told yours recently how awesome they are?

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