By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
November is National Inspirational Role Models Month which aims to highlight the importance of having a role model that inspires us in order to overcome the hardships of life and reach our full potential. For many people, this has been key to bypass the coronavirus pandemic that has left mental health problems, financial crisis, and unemployment, among other things.
But in the midst of this scenario, each one of us, perhaps unintentionally, has served as an inspiration to other people with whom we share the same dreams and goals or are experiencing difficult situations similar to ours and don’t know how to get out of them.
We have been inspirational role models when we make a post on social media, offer advice or adopt a positive attitude that triggers a real change in someone else and encourages him or her to grow as a person.
“Everyone needs inspiration because we learn from what we see outside of us. The brain is activated through mirror neurons, which are the ones that make us emulate behaviors, moods, emotions, and many features that define us,” says Natalia Aristizábal, psychologist, life and corporate coach.
It is precisely because of this human condition that not only celebrities or influencers have the power to become an example for others since often times the people closest to us are the ones who exert the greatest influence and, in some way, are highly related with the way we show ourselves to the world.
“The five people you spend the most time with are the ones you end up imitating the most. Even when we don’t want to, we end up resembling them. For this reason, we must surround ourselves with people who enrich us and help us achieve our goals,” says the specialist.
But imitating does not imply turning into a replica of someone else but rather taking what is useful for our personal or spiritual growth from that person. In this sense, inspirational role models are to be seen as a reference framework from which to start building our own personal style.
The richness of having a good example or an inspirational role model in different moments of life lies in the fact that it allows human beings to change behaviors, attitudes and emotions to get where they want to go.
Find a role model to build your own path
In human history, there are many examples of people who have used a model of reference as a helping tool to fulfill their life purpose. Plato, considered one of the fathers of Western philosophy, became a great thinker after years of being instructed by his teacher Socrates.
But in more recent history there are other examples of famous people who have publicly acknowledged the great value that having a role model has represented in their lives.
The late basketball player, Kobe Bryant, who played 20 seasons in the NBA, stated in an interview he gave for the documentary series The Last Dance that he always followed the footsteps of the Chicago Bulls player, Michael Jordan.
Bryant used to copy Jordan’s way of playing, his leadership style, his mentality, and his technique. The first time his team played against that of Jordan, he received many tips from his role model that he would later follow in his career. The main one? Always give your best at the field because you never know if someone watching a game is following your footsteps.
Wilmar Montoya, a soccer coach at an academy in Doral, knows first-hand the value of inspiring others. As a child, he found inspiration in his family with a sports tradition that he considers motivated him to build his path as a professional in both the education and the sports fields.
When he became an adult, he was certain that he wanted to train children in the discipline of soccer. Today he can proudly say that he has been an inspirational role model for many of his students who are playing professionally in countries like Belgium, Spain, or the Netherlands or at a university through a sports scholarship.
But what does it mean to be a role model for him and what is the importance of this? In his experience, it is not just about teaching a technique, but also about instilling values ??such as teamwork, discipline, resilience, frustration tolerance or respect, and motivating others by treating them well and setting a good example.
“I inspire children because I care about their development process in a holistic way and not just about their performance on the field. The most important thing for me is that they grow up as human beings, that is the true value of a role model,” he says.
For Natalia Aristizábal, an inspirational role model is also the person who helps you raise your energy. “I have a friend that I always feel good with. She has a cool vibe and a positive attitude that is contagious,” says Aristizábal, while adding that we must have the courage to cultivate these types of relationships in our lives and set boundaries or distance ourselves from those who lower our energy.
A positive attitude is precisely what Wilmar tries to instill in his students to help them achieve their dreams. He can see that he has done a good job when his students arrive to soccer practice happy and motivated.
However, he thinks that being a good guide also involves letting those we guide make their own decisions. “While growing up, we received advice from our parents, but at the end of the day we made our own decisions and took risks. I give instructions on the field but I let them fix their problems. That is growing up,” says Wilmar.
The value of negative examples
Although the previous statement sounds like a contradiction, it isn’t. There isn’t value solely in the traditional good role models like those Kobe Bryant or Wilmar Montoya found in their life journeys.
Sometimes, people who have a life full of deprivations or who face serious difficulties, do their best to improve themselves and end up becoming an example to others.
“Even negative models inspire us. They inspire us to find in our lives the opposite of what they showed us. For instance, an individual who grew up with an alcoholic father may end up rejecting alcohol,” says Natalia.
There are also people who step out of their comfort zone to find role models beyond their social circle. This is the case of the great wave of unemployed people that the pandemic brought; Many began to question their role in life after being fired from their jobs and, as a consequence, created successful business projects that inspired others.
Pamela J. Campbell, writer, speaker and spiritual life coach, is one of those people who is inspiring others despite having had a traumatic childhood that led her to enter the foster care system at age 16.
“I was born in the Ivory Coast (West Africa) and when I was two years old I arrived in the United States. At age 6, I began to suffer physical and emotional abuse at home, at 16, I ran away from home and later a partner tried to sexually abuse me,” says Campbell.
However, despite the fact that she spent many years feeling anger and pain, one day she woke up ready to change her life. “I was tired of being tired and I had nothing to lose anymore,” she says.
Getting to that point was a long process that began when she entered the foster care system and finally had positive role models in her life such as a social worker and her adoptive mother.
“She always told me not to let my past experiences define me. At the time I didn’t understand her, but then her words began to make sense and I started a spiritual journey in which I realized that behind everything there is always a lesson,” says Pamela.
Her first lesson learned was to understand that she enured difficult experiences to help others heal wounds similar to the ones she had. To accomplish her mission, she left her job at a law firm to become a mentor, foster care advocate, writer, and spiritual coach.
“I am grateful to have met people who saw strengths in me when I did not see them. It is important to surround ourselves with people who give us a different perspective on things, help us move on when we no longer want to, and make us see that we can become what we want. The perfect role model is the one that speaks to your soul,” she says.