The other day, this lady told me how glad she was that her adolescent son had Steve Jobs for a role model. So far, so good. Then she added, “I mean, imagine if he’d want to be like Michael Jackson!”. I didn’t reply. I guess I wasn’t on a mission that particular day. And I didn’t feel like telling her this:
Role models, like any other models, are abstractions of reality. As much as we admire a person, we admire certain capacities or attitudes. This admiration tells us who we could become, or who we long to become in our dreams. Like other models, they give us an opportunity to examine and learn. To find out how a machine works without the distractions of mechanical and technical details. Or to explore a way to be successful in our endeavors. Say, if I would want to become a better skier, I would benefit from observing professionals ski and imitate their movements. If I’d long to be successful in business, I could learn from case studies and the experience of other people who have been successful in business.
But, and this is important: I do not need (or want) to become that person. Or be like them in every single detail.
Now, I happen to admire both Steve Jobs and Michael Jackson. I would like to be as bold in business as Steve was and as brilliant a transformer as Michael was. But, and here’s the thing: I don’t mind turtle necks, but I would be very displeased with myself if I’d treated the people around me with the disdain Steve apparently displayed. And I would be ashamed of myself if I’d ever become as fussy as Michael appeared to be. (Let alone that I’m rather happy to be a female ;-).