Read the introductory post to my Role Model Challenge (RMC) if you’re new to the blog. If you’ve not yet caught up (where have you been?!) you can also read my findings from Week 1 , Week 2, and Week 3.
For the fourth and final time I’d like to introduce this week’s role models:
- Lionel Schriver – Author
- Richa Chadha – Actress in the Indian film industry
- Max Levchin – Entrepreneur (tech innovator and creator of PayPal)
- Emma Watson – Actress
- Neil Strauss – Author
- Mel Robbins – Author, speaker, and presenter
- Veronica Belmont – Robotics entrepreneur and TV presenter
- Eric Thomas – AKA the Hip-Hop Preacher – Speaker and entrepreneur
- Michelle Obama – Former First Lady of the United States of America
- Patton Oswalt – Actor and comedian
- Lewis Cantley – Biologist
- Matthew McConaughey – Actor
- Mark Zuckerberg – Entrepreneur, best known as a co-creator of Facebook
I select my role models by reading the next chapter of Tim Ferriss’ “Tribe of Mentors” book and then I consciously choose a second mentor from YouTube. Thus far I’ve used only videos from Evan Carmichael’s channel, which feature life and business advice taken from the world’s top thought leaders.
However in this last week I broke this habit, venturing into other video content to fulfil my desire to study my heroes. This proved to be a bit more time-consuming in the short-term because it wasn’t specifically designed for my purpose. It takes thought and effort to translate footage into practical, actionable advice. However it was worth it to model those people whose work has most impacted upon me personally.
Reviewing my findings across the week identified three main strategies for success:
- Be yourself
- Be brave
- Prioritize self-care
Let’s now take these one at a time and explore them in detail.
Fundamental Finding #1: Be yourself
Most mentors this week believe wholeheartedly that being yourself is key to success in work and in life. Given the strong individuals who comprise my #RMCWeek4 squad, this is somewhat unsurprising. However what I didn’t anticipate was how honest they would be about the practical challenges of fully being themselves.
“Showing who you really are – being vulnerable – requires a willingness to be open, both in and with the rest of the world.”
Heather (<—That’s me! My first quote!)
Though technically impossible to be anyone else, it requires courage and confidence to consistently be yourself. It can be genuinely scary to live your truth. Directed to the core of who you are, criticism and negative comments from others can hurt all the more.
Thankfully I had many amazing examples of how to be myself among this week’s thought leaders. For me, Lionel Schriver stood out as someone who truly who embodies the principle of staying true to yourself. Both in her work as an author and in her personal life she stands by her conviction that “we can be whoever we want to be.” At just fifteen she made a huge decision to change her name to Lionel. Not wanting to be confined by gender, this was an extraordinarily brave move at a time when gender fluidity wasn’t common parlance, much less understood.
I’m starting to genuinely value being myself for the confidence and self-respect this engenders. Lionel showed that it’s possible to gain respect for being unapologetically yourself, even if others dislike or disagree with you personally. Many find Lionel’s awkwardness and unwillingness to submit to convention unsettling, yet for me it’s these very qualities which I most admire. As a childless woman writing on motherhood and the degree to which parents are responsible for their children’s actions in “We need to talk about Kevin”, she faced a barrage of personal and professional criticism. Yet never once did she contemplate changing her book to appease others, instead pursuing agents and publishers who would understand her work.
Similarly, Michelle Obama strongly believes in being authentic, which she explains as follows:
“…as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values, and follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
In this sense, both Lionel and Michelle imply that there’s a freedom to be gained from being yourself. Whilst I agree with this in principle, I recognise the difficulty of putting this into practice. “Hip Hop Preacher” Eric Thomas explains how exactly to apply this advice, recognising that being authentically yourself requires first knowing who you are and what you believe. Eric says that knowing who we are comes from understanding our values; namely those rules to which we hold ourselves accountable and which subsequently set the direction of our lives. Clarifying my own values and belief systems has been a huge part of my personal development practise this year. It’s not easy to put into words what essentially makes you who you are, but in so doing I’ve found I’m able to act in alignment with what matters most to me. Investing my time and energies into writing this post is a perfect example of how I’m learning to be true to myself and my dreams.
Personally I find the real challenge is in being consistently authentic. I’m fine with being myself until I’m in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or anxious; when it goes against my natural instincts to choose vulnerability. For example, I’m often scared of either saying or doing the “wrong” thing when networking. I easily slip into protection mode, avoiding conversation and instead retreating inside my own head. Not only is this embarrassing but it’s incredibly frustrating when I know that the “real” me is someone who genuinely loves to make connections.
I turned to this week’s role models for guidance on overcoming the fear and being yourself and wasn’t disappointed. I took heart from Emma Watson who implores us to love ourselves not in spite of – but because of – our flaws. This requires being honest with ourselves; acknowledging even those parts we’d rather deny. Emma believes that accepting our inherent human imperfections empowers us to be kind and compassionate towards each other. Easier said than done, it’s a beautiful principle that takes a lot of practise. I suspect I’ll be working on this particular flaw for some time.
I liked Mel Robbins’ practical suggestion that we stop using the “F-bomb” (the word “fine”) to describe how we feel, instead being honest and speaking our truth. She believes this then gives us the choice to act differently and be whoever we want. Since I stopped using “fine, thanks!” in response to any inquiry as to my well-being, the world didn’t fall apart. I did however feel considerably better for not pretending to feel something if it’s not what I actually felt.
However it’s not only what we think and do that affects our willingness to show up. Other people have a huge influence on whether we decide to be fully ourselves. Richa Chadha recommends carefully critiquing advice before acting on it. She says that even those closest to us can “…set invisible limits on how much you can achieve in you life and pass those limitations on to you inadvertently.”
This is something I relate to, having historically taken on my parents’ anxieties as if they were my own. By not following my heart and pursuing my dreams, I’ll never know whether I’ve potentially missed out on life-changing opportunities. Having heard Richa’s eloquent description of the effect others can have on our decisions, I plan to question my perceptions and their origins more closely in future. This week’s female thought leaders in particular inspire me to be myself. Following Michelle’s advice I plan to “stay true to the most real, most authentic and most sincere parts of [my]self.”
Fundamental Finding #2: Be brave
Success requires we act bravely; willing to face fear and take action to move in the direction of our dreams. I noticed there are three main ways in which my #RMCSquad4 advise we act courageously.
Brave act #1: Daring to face our fears
Role models Emma and Michelle challenge us to do what scares us in order to grow. Despite their different professional and personal backgrounds, they both agree that having the courage to face one’s fears can positively impact the world. Both of these extremely accomplished women exemplify this behaviour. In her early twenties, Emma made an impassioned speech about gender equality before the leaders of the United Nations. Conversely, whilst used to the political spotlight, Michelle had to face a barrage of criticism and personal comments directed at her family when they moved into the White House. In particular, I admire that both their replies have taken on a calm, dignified manner in response to fear.
There’s a contradiction in facing our fears, in that it requires learning to trust ourselves, and yet also requires us to take action despite our feelings. It’s not easy to have the courage to bet on ourselves; to follow our hearts and trust our gut instincts in the wya Mel describes. At the same time she says pursuing our dreams can sometimes only be achieved by “…by forcing ourselves to take small steps in the direction we want to.”
Our challenge is to combine our need to push beyond our perceived limits and have faith in our own judgments. I believe this is what leads us to achieve more than we believe ourselves capable. Looking to the talented artists and entrepreneurs in my #RMCSquad4, creativity is clearly the reward for facing fear. This makes sense because creativity necessitates bravery in order to push boundaries and explore new ideas. As Lionel puts it “I instinctively want to enter perilous territory. That’s when it gets interesting.”
Brave act #2: Standing up for our beliefs
Richa warns that the courage to stand by your convictions often comes at a cost. She says that “… no matter where you are, you have to pay a price for voicing your concerns.” Being brave by making ourselves vulnerable to others is inherently risky. It’s human nature to judge others and so Richa recommends we “be provokable”, meaning be ready to defend yourself
A more extreme example of this kind of courage, Lionel prioritises her artistic integrity above all else. She stood by her decision to write a novel based on her own family dynamics, despite the pain it caused her relationships. Neither option seems particularly appealing to me, but I can appreciate how being brave enough to stand by your beliefs can mean mean making difficult decisions.
Brave act #3: Stepping out of our comfort zone
Matthew McConoughey demonstrated this kind of bravery by taking time out from the film industry to reinvent his career. It takes courage to turn down lucrative job offers and risk not working again in what’s a notoriously difficult industry to break. Yet this brave strategy worked out in the long-term. By stepping out of his comfort zone, Matthew’s career as a serious, dramatic actor blew up and took him down a totally new path.
For me, writing this blog is stepping out of my comfort zone. I’ve read other people’s blogs forever and longed to start my own, but had no idea where to begin. Having a spark of an idea earlier this year pushed me to face my fears of judgment and start to publish my writing publically. I believe that sharing my story and speaking my truth might help someone else to become better, hence why I’m working on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. After all, it’s only by taking brave action that we move forward.
Fundamental Finding #3: Prioritise self-care
My final finding this week relates to the subject of self-care, which I broadly define as paying attention to our needs and acting in our own best interests. There are physical, emotional, and psychological approaches to self-care which Neil Strauss described as doing “…anything healthy that gets you out of your mind and into your body.”
Like many mentors, I deploy a range of strategies to ensure I’m my happiest, healthiest self. Some of my examples include:
- Getting enough good-quality sleep.
- Working out with like-minded people.
- Reading for fun.
- Time with the people (and feline friends) that I love.
- Consistently taking my medicine.
- Organisation strategies whereby I prioritise and plan projects, both at work and at home.
I notice that most self-care strategies fall into categories of organisation, balance, relaxation and seeking support.
Self-care strategy #1: Organisation
Organisation requires planning and preparation that most mentors acknowledge is key to success. By planning ahead to take care of our present and future needs, we’re literally directing our lives. Being organised is psychologically beneficial, reducing stress, helping us sort any mental clutter, and creating the headspace to better handle whatever life throws at us. It also permits us to prioritise how we use our time.
Self-care strategies often work best when we use the most appropriate organisational tools. This week’s mentors recommend using Post-its, notepads, and techie tools to apply their favourite self-care techniques: Journalling like Richa, list-making like Veronica Belmont, and Post-it planning like Mel all of which make sense to me as a writer. Putting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or screen) is a great way for me to slow down and clear my mind.
Planning in time for self-care is essential for me. I take action up-front to give myself the space, time, and energy I need to relax, have fun, and connect with the people I love. For instance, I schedule my workouts for the week in my calendar, generally go to bed at a decent time, and use task lists to help me focus.McConoughey refers to this organisational approach where one plans and executes as much as possible ahead of time as “creating your own weather.”He can “…then blow in the wind – or at least appear that way.”
This gave me a different perspective on those whom I envy for having their sh*t together; for making life look so easy. If hugely successful actors like Matthew are hustling behind the scenes, then it’s pretty safe to assume others are also having to work hard to get what they want. It’s worth remembering that all I’m seeing is them blowing in the wind.
When I think of it this way, I consider being organised the most important act of self-care. Not only does the process of planning and preparation help me feel a greater sense of control, but it allows me to create the balance that’s right for my own life.
Self-care strategy #2: Balance
It seems I’m not alone in seeking balance. Many mentors took this macro-level perspective of self-care, speaking about their individual approach to work-life balance. It was refreshing to hear such extraordinarily accomplished people talk about striving for balance in their own lives. For example, former First Lady Michelle speaks openly of her belief that balance matters more than status:
“I’ve never been the kind of person who has defined myself by a career or a job. I just never have.”
In a capitalist, Western society it’s hard not to define ourselves by how we pay the bills. Even when we meet new people, one of the first questions we typically ask is “so, what do you do?” I relate to Michelle in not seeing myself in such limited terms.
Having a strong, successful female role model like Michelle gives me confidence in creating a balanced life on my terms. For instance, family is always her highest priority but it’s also important that she can pursue her passion for social projects. Whilst this isn’t my idea of balance, I respect her self-awareness in recognising what’s right for her.
Reviewing my own work-life balance, I’m grateful to have clear boundaries between my paid work and my free time. Managing this time is still a work-in-progress. There’s so much I want to do, like pursuing my passion for writing and connecting via social media, spending quality time with my loved ones, and importantly, taking care of myself. This can feel a little overwhelming, but I’m excited and feel inspired to enjoy the balance I’ve built into my own life.
Yet there’s also a misconception that a balanced approach to self-care should come easily. In reality it takes work and requires our focused attention – much like anything else worth doing in life. As Veronica says:
“My downtime is just as valuable as my uptime, and I have to schedule it in accordingly.”
Taking an organised, holistic approach to managing our time is important in creating balance. This is something Lewis Cantley mentioned this week. Acknowledging that doing what you love requires energy, he thinks it’s important we don’t spend it all on work. I’ve never had much trouble keeping my work and personal life separate. However as more of my free time is taken up by personal projects, the lines between work and leisure are becoming a little less clear.
Self-care strategy #3: Relaxation
Crucial to our physical and mental well-being, relaxation is closely linked with organisation. In fact, planning is what creates the space and time this element of self-care requires. Relaxation-focused self-care generally refers to those activities which promote health, fitness, and general well-being. It’s essentially what most people think of when they think about what self-care comprises.
Examples of relaxation strategies from this week’s mentors include Richa’s recommendation to take regular breaks, or to walk the dog like Veronica as a way to unwind. Being with animals is something I personally find therapeutic. My recent zoo adventures and my obsession with my cats probably gives this away. Whilst they sometimes drive C and I up the wall, for the most part they’re a huge reason to be happy and relaxed!
An interesting lesson from my #RMCSquad4 is that acting in our own best interests sometimes means not doing something. Neil Strauss describes the mind as like a computer, with overwhelm a sign that our memory is full and we need to shut down, recharge and reboot. Richa explains how she handles this; by going on a life or career detox:
“A life detox is me delegating my responsibilities to an assistant or manager for a while, and seeking help, before I turn off my phone and wander and think and relax. A career detox means I turn my phone off, don’t read about how my films, shows or plays are faring, and be a regular person.”
Whilst most of us don’t have the means to follow her advice exactly (!), we can all adapt Richa’s detoxification strategy to suit our circumstances. For example, if we’re over-reliant on devices, we can switch off and undergo a digital detox. When work takes too much time and energy away from our relationships, we can realign with our values and adjust the balance accordingly. Admittedly, prioritizing my mental wellbeing and knowing when I need to step back and take a break is still a challenge. While I’m getting better at understanding where my head’s at, this week’s RMC has got me thinking about what’s important and my mental health is most definitely up there!
Self-care strategy #4: Supportive community
Finally, my #RMCSquad4 seem to view self-care as building connections and seeking support. Richa wasn’t the only person to speak of the importance of having someone to turn to for help; Mark Zuckerberg is also unsurprisingly in favour of developing strong social bonds. He believes friendships matters so much that our education systems ought to reflect this, developing social skills alongside academics.
Being naturally shy, I’d have likely benefited from adult support in building my confidence, creating and nurturing connections. As an adult I recognise I’m not so much shy as I am introverted. I’m a confident, eloquent public speaker, but social situations leave me easily exhausted. Recognising when my energy is low allows me to apply the relaxation recommendations I discussed earlier in this post.
Taking this idea further Neil believes “the secret to change and growth is not willpower, but positive community.” He explains how being part of a group has helped him achieve his best-ever physical shape. Returning time and again to classes for the sheer fun of it helped Neil maintain this healthy habit. Getting to know my fitness classmates these past few years, meeting like-minded people with whom I’m comfortable – even in Lycra! – helped me make fitness a regular part of lifestyle. Being around the right people makes a huge impact upon my mindset.
Overall Observations: Week 4
If you’ve been following my RMC week-by-week, then you’ll likely have noticed how much I’ve grown in the short time I’ve spent modelling my mentors. Regardless of their industry or path to success, each and every thought leader has taught me something of value.
Specifically, during this fourth week I’ve become better at noticing nuance in my mentors’ advice. Even when hearing from someone or something I think I already know, I’m learning to identify what’s new to me; those things I’ve perhaps overlooked or not yet tried. Moreover, I’m intentionally seeking out fresh facts, tricks, and tips to apply to my own life.
Reflecting on this challenge, I can confidently say that this month has been one long exciting, eye-opening experiment. I’ve learnt so much that I think my final conclusions deserve their own post (plus I think I’ll likely lose the plot – or you will – if I keep writing!). My plan is to return with a “special edition” post in a few weeks’ time, once I’ve had time to step back, gain a little perspective, and muse on my findings.
Until then, thank you for joining me for my second month-long challenge. I look forward to experimenting with something new in the not-so-distant future!