The word role model often brings to mind our primary school days when we were routinely asked this question and we would reply with childish innocence; my mummy and my daddy, followed by the name of some random famous person whose life story we probably didn’t even know.
Whether the list has changed since then for you is a question you need to ask yourself.
It is easy to respond with random names to impress whoever is questioning us. My standard answer usually features names like Mother Theresa, Mo Abudu, even Oprah. And truly, these are people whose lives inspire me, and whose achievements I admire.
But in reality, the people whose actions and behaviour I emulate are much closer to me than those people will likely ever be. They are in my family, they have been my teachers, friends, colleagues, neighbours, etc.
As a student of the university, I personally observed just how much friendships and close acquaintances can cause change in a person’s attitude. We all know that one girl who came into the university wearing skirts that could wipe the ground, long sleeved blouses, hair covered. We also noted how she became a slay mama long before graduation, completely different from that extremely conservative hundred level girl.
Very often we hear of how a particularly violent young person has a family history of domestic violence or abusive family members. Perhaps a sexually adventurous young man had a promiscuous father.
Some children make career choices due to their observation of the lives of close relatives; the law student daughter of two lawyers, the doctor son of a doctor mother, the fraudulent brother of a cyber-criminal.
In one way or another, the people around us influence our behaviours. To what extent we allow it is a choice we have to make.
Because very often this influence is sub-concious, it is possible that you aren’t even aware of just how much you are modelling other people’s behaviours. Some share political ideologies without any real conviction, simply because everyone around them is doing so. Young people have been known to take up drinking and smoking in order to reflect the lifestyle of television personalities.
After determining exactly whose influence you have been allowing into your life, you may now decide if you are comfortable with the picture you can see. Identifying your ‘real’ role models allows you to stop deceiving yourself. You cannot claim to have Dangote as your role model when in reality all your lifestyle choices scream Terry-G.
While I am not trying to tell you which one of the two you should strive to be like, I do want you to be honest with yourself. Do not let your role models be people whose influence on your life is unwitting. Make a conscious choice.
Only by choosing can you ensure that you are not blindly following someone into disaster. Failure to identify and prune negative influences is the reason some people grow up to realise they have become the very thing they hated about their parents or other care givers.
I’ll round up by rephrasing my initial question.
Who are your real role models?