Human beings are “aiming” creatures.
When we look out at the world, we are not really seeing different objects. We are seeing a complex system of tools. We recognize the utility and purpose of something before we can identify its existence.
In other words, the world is not made up of things, it is made up of meanings.
We are the same way with other people. When we look at other people, we judge whether or not we like them, whether we find their qualities appealing, whether they are people we want to be like or not.
This is why we have role models.
A good role model will embody the qualities of that we would like to have. This can be really helpful to us through our lives, because we are given somewhat of a road map to meeting our fullest potential. Having people that we look up to can give us something that we might not have been able to find on our own—a queue or a hint to actualizing our most heartfelt longings.
I know that when I was a little younger, meeting people that I appreciated and looked up to would really show me what was possible. It’s still that way for me, as I am always finding role models in other writers, spiritual teachers, artists, and entrepreneurs.
There is basically no cap on human potential, and when we see other people embodying qualities that we value—it uplifts and inspires us to transcend our own self-imposed limitations. It’s a great cycle.
But there is a problem here. We can’t necessarily trust ourselves to appreciate qualities in other people that will serve us in the long-term. I know that in my experience I’ve falsely held people up on a pedestal who truly didn’t deserve to be there. I found out later on through trial and error that those qualities wouldn’t serve me and weren’t serving them either.
Just because we are aiming creatures doesn’t mean that we always aim correctly.
Naturally, we are going to have role models who don’t necessarily reveal to us the proper path in life, but even through embodying qualities that don’t serve us we can evolve in some way by learning what not to do. Trial and error—with an emphasis on error. We can learn through negation, from how “not to be.” So luckily, even “bad” role models can help us in some way.
Ideally, we avoid going astray and can stay on the straight and narrow. This led me to ask myself: How do we choose the best role models?
First, let me tell you a few of mine, just for fun. A couple of names that come to mind: Joseph Campbell, Elon Musk, Bruce Lee, Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, and Virginia Woolf. Each person embodies a specific quality or set of qualities that I seek to personify in my daily life.
There are certain aspects that I look for when determining whether an individual is worth following or not, a specific criteria that you might find helpful in choosing your own role models.
For one, all of the people that I look up to are creators of some kind. The highest level creators are the people we should be listening to, because creativity is the expression of the soul’s purpose.
Secondly, I garner something from people who are guided by some transcendent principle, connected to something that is not purely dependent on form and ego. I’m not really trusting of people who believe there is nothing spiritual or magical about life, because they tend to only put their faith in power over others.
Lastly, my number one criteria for a role model is someone who is ultimately striving for peace above all else. Only a fool would choose unnecessary conflict over potential equanimity. Peace should be at the top of our moral hierarchy; it is the prerequisite to all the other good qualities in life: beauty, art, and love. When choosing a role model, make sure that peace takes precedence over war—no matter what name that war is claimed to be fought in.
It’s difficult to know what path to take in life. There are many ways to be, and it’s hard to figure out what works specifically for us—what modes of being will nourish our soul.
I would also say, try a lot of different things. Let’s not be constrained by what our parents told us, by what our culture continuously tells us, or by our preconceived ideas about what’s possible.
Be open. Be playful. Be experimental. Read, read, and read some more. Go to a museum. Get interested. Get up. Get out.
There is so much out there, and even more importantly, there is so much within ourselves that we have yet to come in contact with.
Tap into the endless stream of both the inside and the outside, the world and our own consciousness, and we’ll be sure to figure something out in this strange and crazy life.