What do you want to be when you grow up? A constant question every human on earth can relate to. It is the universal statement of family get-togethers and elementary school assignments. The consistent feeling in the back of your mind that the future is unfolding, and you had better figure it out.
What I’ve come to realize is: the question is not what; it is who.
This past summer, I started a new job. A job filled with new people, new concepts and a totally niche world. It scared me, I was uncomfortable, vulnerable, and felt inadequate. I was 21 years old, with huge standards for myself, and a perfectionist attitude that was a blessing and a curse. I was working in a tight-knit staff, with an emphasis on group dynamics. I was consistently thinking:
What if I make a mistake? What will they think of me?
I was hyper-aware of what I was saying, how I was coming across, and what kind of impression I made. I felt like I was in a constant clench, waiting for someone to point out a mistake or to correct me in some way.
After a while, I had a good idea of everyone’s personality, their core characteristics and their work ethic. All but one woman, who was a consistent mystery to me, yet someone I understood all at the same time. She was about my mother’s age, had a dark way about her, yet a genuine kindness, very intimidating, yet put me at ease. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew I felt an innate respect for her.
One day, she invited me to have lunch with her. She took an interest in my travels, in my education and the kind of person I am. She told me about her own life and experiences, her children, and her passions.
When she asked me questions, I feel that she genuinely wanted to know the answer.
In the next few months, we spent most days together; I adopted her as my go-to person for professional and personal advice. She taught me how to understand my intuition, not to apologize for other people’s actions, to stand up for what is right, even if it is not easy.
She leads by example in how she navigates the hard situations.
She is diplomatic, yet does not stand by and accept injustice. She fights tirelessly for what she believes is right, and works harder than anyone I have ever met. She showed me that being myself is never wrong, and setting goals is the most important thing. She taught me to never be ashamed of my emotions, and that loyalty is more important than recognition.
And eventually, I realized: I want to be like her when I grow up.
I want to exude those values, to be a forever learner. Having a role model does not mean losing your own sense of individuality; it actually means the exact opposite. It means that they should inspire you to be yourself and to understand your own strengths that are specific to you. They should always encourage your own passions, and be the embodiment of growth. They should make you want to be a better person, to demonstrate by actions, and care deeply and genuinely about you.
Be friends with people who are not your age, take interest in people who are different ethnicities or religions, and different backgrounds.
Thank the people that challenge you to be better. Even if they do not realize the impact they have on you, tell them anyway.
Surround yourself with this idea of inspiration. Look at the world around you and observe others, everyone has something to teach you; let them.