Do we need role models?

By Caitlin Kelly

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A favorite TV series, about an older Swedish detective

Once you become an adult, certainly if you’re female and choose an unconventional life — maybe not marrying or not having children or working in a creative field — you might crave a role model.

Someone who took the path less traveled by, and thrived.

As American poet Robert Frost wrote, in 1916:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Mainstream, mass market American women’s magazines are too generic, hence unhelpful.

Impossible to relate to corporate warriors like Sheryl Sandberg or Arianna Huffington in their $4,000 sheath dresses and multi-million-dollar lives.

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I hope to keep traveling!

In North America, older women are typically offered a depressingly bifurcated path — turn dumpy and invisible or spend every penny on Botox, fillers and plastic surgery. Look younger, or else!

Neither appeals to me, so I’m forever in search of inspiration, i.e. role models.

In June — where I’ll be celebrating in Paris — I’ll hit a milestone  birthday.

Since my mother and I don’t speak and my stepmother died nine years ago, I don’t have many older women to talk to intimately about what lies ahead.

So it was a great pleasure recently to run into a friend from my dance classes — I was out walking in our small town in the sunshine — and catch up with her, a woman about to hit her next milestone birthday, a decade beyond mine.

She really is an inspiration to me, about to fly to Japan, again, where she’ll be teaching writing and staying with her partner, who has a home there. Last time we met up, she was off to Barcelona to visit one of her daughters.

She always looks terrific, trim and fit, wearing flattering colors and — most importantly — has a real infectious joy and spirit of adventure.

I lost both my grandmothers the year I turned 18, so it’s been a long, long time without a much older woman in my life to talk to.

CPR CLASS
Members of  my team, Softball Lite taking a CPR class, March 4, 2017 in Hastings, NY.

But our apartment building is pretty much an old age home, the sort of place people move into at 65 or 75 or 85 after they’ve sold the family house.

So I watch people decades older than I navigate their lives, whether romantic, professional or personal. We don’t hang out, but we do socialize and chat in the hallways or lobby or driveway, our shared spaces.

One woman — in her late 80s, maybe older — on our floor, has a fab new Barbour tweed jacket and looks amazing, even with her walker. I told her so, and as I walked away, heard her say, happily: “That made my day!”

Older people get ignored.  They aren’t listened to. Their needs and desires get dismissed.

That’s not what I want! That’s not what anyone wants.

My father, at 88, is still blessed with enough income and health to be traveling internationally and deciding where to live, still on his own. In his own way, he’s a role model — my husband, a late-life surprise baby, lost both his parents when he was still in his 20s.

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Fleece came in handy when playing golf in 19 mph winds; Cruit Island, Donegal, Ireland

I know the elements of a happy later life, especially after retirement, will be many of the same things as today:

good health, enough money to enjoy some pleasures, intimate friendships, a strong sense of community, a well-tended marriage.

I’m also deliberately trying new-to-me things and learning new skills, like CPR and how to play golf. I debated trying to learn German, but I admit it — I wimped out!

Like both of my parents, I enjoy knowing several much younger friends — people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, each of us at a different stage of life, perhaps, but often struggling with similar, life-long issues, whether intimacy, work or how to handle money well.

We don’t have children or grand-children, (putting us very much out of step with our peers.) So we enjoy others’ when we can.

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I like having chosen the road less traveled, with its many twists and turns.

But a compass and a guide are helpful.

Do you have role models to help you figure out your life?

Who, and how?

Caitlin Kelly, an award-winning non-fiction author and frequent contributor to The New York Times, is a New York-based journalist. Her practical tips, offered through one-on-one webinars and individual coaching, have helped many other writers and bloggers worldwide, quickly increasing their sales, reader engagement and followers; details here.

Contact: learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

145 thoughts on “Do we need role models?

  1. I have more than a few role models. I don’t mean authors I like, because while they influence my writing every day, they’re not people whom I rely on for guidance in difficult situations. My parents are definitely role models. I learn a lot from them on what or what not to do. I also like certain people like Elie Wiesel and Gordon Zacks, people who used their positions to positively influence the world. I also have a number of people whose examples positively influence me: Anita Sarkeesian, Jon Stewart, Jon Oliver, Trevor Noah, people who take a look at our world and analyze it to see what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do to improve it. I also take fictional people as my role models. Seriously: Sailor Moon taught me to not give up when things seem really horrible or scary. Same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    I have a lot of influences, but I think they all tell me the same thing: try and be a good person. Try and make the world a better place. And hopefully I’m delivering on that.

    1. Love this! What a great mix of people and reasons for admiring them.

      I often look to women from the (distant) past, from QEI to amazing WWI photographers and writers like Margaret Bourke-White and Antoinette May and Martha Gellhorn, none of whom took one ounce of shit from anyone.

      Politically? A bit more difficult for me.

      Someone like the late Nobel prize winner from Kenya Wangari Maathai or Marie Curie, who won two Nobels and changed medical care forever — at severe costs to her own health. Dorothy Day, social activist.

      It’s hard to find “normal” people I want to be like. I need to look more carefully.

      1. First off, define “normal.” It’s a concept I find hard to understand.
        Second, I’m sure they’re out there. You just might find them when you’re not looking for them. That’s usually how it happens to me.

  2. I very much agree with what you say here – retirement comes down to doing many of the same things that we do now and happiness from good health, some money, intimate friendships and a well-tended marriage (I like how you put that). I don’t have older role models (I think I may be coming up to the same milestone as you in a year and a half or so). I never knew my grandmothers (both had passed away) and my mother died when I was 21. I had a much older sister -14 years older – with whom I reconnected (I came from a very dysfunctional family) 10 yrs ago but she passed away in late 2015.

    My M and I also live in a building with many much older people (it’s not a retirement building, but there are lots here) in a part of town with many much older people, but there’s little in the way of connecting with any of them. In a couple of years, we want to move to the other end of town with its more regular demographic (it’s also where all the good restaurants are and we can walk to them 😉 ).

    It would be good to have an older role model again. In the meantime, I am working in NWT in a job I love with a nice age cross-section. M is starting in Nunavut in May. Yup, we are going to be doing the “very” long-distance relationship and are aware of the fact that time is passing. But, this way, we will recoup financially very quickly and then M plans to “sort of” retire.

    1. Sounds like you have it well figured out.

      Having that $$$$ and speeding up your plans will likely soften the blow of that long-distance decision.

      Good luck with it. You lead such an interesting life! 🙂

  3. Im surrounded by a lot of great role models. My mother would be one. She suffered great loss at an early age. Her parents were killed in a semi accident when she was 9. My mother has a big heart. She is one of the most kindest people that I know. I think a lot of my older role models are people that have been through a lot in life but still have that zeal for life. They show me no matter your circumstance you can get through.

  4. i’ve never had the role models one would expect, natural family, but have found inspiration in many places in my life, by reading, talking to others, and crossing paths with people who have changed my life in ways they, nor i, could ever have expected.

  5. My parents, sadly passed away now, are my role models. Dad was still working in his early 70s (an entrepreneur, he had his own company). Mom was always an editor and freelance writer. In their later years they wintered in Barbados where he golfed and they met up, year after year, with the same snowbird friends. They had a condo in the city and a 100-acre farm – purchased in the late 1960s when it was in a derelict state – an easy hour and a half drive out of Toronto. The perfect life! And they were happy. A solid, loving marriage of over 40 years. After arriving in Canada from England in the early 1950s and knowing no-one, they had worked hard to obtain that life.

    And then dad died suddenly of a heart attack and it all came crashing down. But that’s another story.

    As for retirement, it seems to me that good planning is essential. I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to afford to live in France when I retire. So Portugal might be an option.

    1. What a great life they created! It does sound heavenly.

      I attended the funeral on Saturday for a friend’s father — killed (!) by a teen driver. They had celebrated their 50th anniversary in November — and I live in fear and dread of becoming a widow myself.

      I keep hearing good things about Portugal — are you following my fave blog, Frolic? Chelsea, who writes it (as single woman, no kids) now lives in Lisbon.

      1. Yes, I have looked at Frolic; I’ll look at it again. Another important thing to do when retired (and I’m sure you’ll agree with me) is to keep the brain stimulated. So the idea of learning a new language – Portuguese – appeals to me. As for physical exercise, golf abounds in Portugal (all those retired expats have to do something!) I’ve never played, but am eager to learn.

      2. Frolic, per se, won’t give you a lot of details…but she follows me on Twitter. Maybe email her directly and ask if she’d be willing to share what life there FT is like.

        Golf is fun, social, outdoors and decent exercise. I took it up about 3 years ago. I don’t play that often (it’s quite expensive here in NY) but it’s really enjoyable once you acquire some skill.

  6. Nutritional food for thought, Caitlin. I admire many women such as you describe (and men, but we’ll stick to gals for this). A sampler: Patti Smith, Gwen (here in my town of Beacon who is in her mid-90s and still drives and works in Beacon Reads, the used book store next to the library). And, in between, the women I see on the streets that take the time to smile or do something kind. To a lesser degree, but still—the ones that take care to put themselves together with carefully chosen clothing and accessories, because it is a creative act makes them happy (I don’t mean putting on your designer duds to do “ladies who lunch.” I can tell the difference). 🙂 I’ll never be Patti Smith, but I hope I can be like Gwen and the unknowns. The women in my family were and are all very kindhearted. In different degrees, they have influenced me as well.

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this one…

      There’s such a complex mix of qualities to seek/find in others — a commitment to social justice, a sense of style, joie de vivre, an ongoing social and political involvement in the wider world.

      Of course, this relies so heavily on retaining good health and enough income. 🙂

      1. Exactly! That complex mix, or maybe like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates! We can sample them and sometimes come up with a tasty multi-combo like dark chocolate/cherry liqueur (or better yet, eat the whole box to make sure!) 🙂

  7. For me, it’s not one person as it would limit the possibilities unnecessary. However, anybody who is capable of reflecting and sacrificing to be a good human being is a role model for me. Especially, people who can just be kind to everybody, even to those from whom nothing can be expected in return. No law of attraction agenda, no reciprocity plan. Thanks for the inspiring post and all the best!

    1. Thanks, Mathias!

      I agree — I don’t look to any one person (we’re all flawed) but I really appreciate it when I see people behaving in ways that inspire me, and prompt me to act in equally decent ways.

      I had dinner last night with a friend many decades younger who’s heading into a totally new life and business venture. I find her optimism (and skills) so inspiring — at my older age, many people are settled deeply into patterns, not budging mentally or physically.

      1. Hi Caitlin. Thanks for your answer. What I find difficult is to clearly distinguish inspiration from comparison. If we compare with others we’ll always end up with feelings of inferiority. Inspiration also can come from inside. And I am sure that we can have a young mind in high age. You seem also to practice openness, which I think is a precondition for staying mentally agile. Enjoyed your article! Take care

      2. Yes. That’s exactly why so many “role models” shown to me, and others, by the mass media make zero sense to me — I have no wish to emulate them, nor do I have their advanced degrees, VC funding, etc. It’s a very, very narrow band of super-high-achieving women (anyway) presented to us as worth emulating.

        Openness is key at every age, for sure. 🙂

  8. My parents were and still are huge role models for me! My father is an immigrant from Iraq and is a dedicated worker. My mother is a stay at home mom and homeschools my two sisters and myself. They show me every day the importance of family and hard work.
    I like how you mentioned that the elder people should not be ignored. I completely agree, I mean no one likes that. They have a world of wisdom to share with us, if the younger generation would just listen.
    I also volunteer at a Nature Center in my neighborhood. I’ve created many programs for the Center and have taught children and adults about the importance of Nature. The naturalist who works there, I met when I was eight years old. Her name is Liza and she has seriously become my role model. She is so intelligent and friendly. We have these moments when we’re going over education stuff and we just start inspiring one another with our thoughts and ideas. I call it our, “Motivation Moment.” It’s like we’re in sync with each other. I really love her because she pulls me out of my shell and enriches my life as a writer and a woman.
    Thanks for this wonderful post. I felt like I needed to read something like this today!

  9. If by role model you mean, the kind where you go “I want to be like ___ when I grow up,” mine would be: Rebecca Solnit and Chimamanda Adichie. Both ferociously intelligent, articulate, brave, committed women (from what I know of them, of course, all of which is through their writing).

    Closer to home, my cousin in Germany comes to mind. Another ferociously intelligent, articulate, brave and committed woman, who is kindness and generosity personified. Utterly aspirational.

    I doff my hat to them all.

  10. cececharli

    This really awoke something in me, I have never considered who I would say could be my role model, I often find myself dismissing family members for decisions made in their past (Which I suppose I shouldn’t do) but have never purposefully looked for someone to inspire me, or to admire. Embarrassingly I draw some inspiration from celebrities, I don’t know why, some I feel I have a connection to. I think I will look harder, you are right it is incredible to find someone who evokes that feeling.

    1. Thanks! That’s always my goal with my blog…:-)

      It’s a real challenge — beyond family and mass media — to find people we admire and might wish to emulate. I never relate to celebrities, as so much of their glamor is manufactured/manipulated and created to make a profit and sell us products.

      The people, esp. women, who most inspire me are ethically, morally, intellectually and physically brave. They are very rarely “celebrities” — except for those like Malala Yousafzai, for example. Elizabeth Warren!

  11. A lovely read. Gave me much food for thought regarding becoming invisible as I am ageing. I’ve recently hit a milestone birthday, but have already noticed a change in the way society treats me. I can’t name a specific person as a role model yet, but would have to use a blanket statement and say any woman who is fiercely independent and feminine all in one package.

    1. Thanks, Chrissie…ageing for women (esp. in cultures that fetishize youth/beauty and economic productivity) *can* be/feel depressing if we allow it to diminish us and our deeply human value. Don’t let anyone dim your flame! 🙂

      1. Here’s something that may or may not surprise you. When searching for a new/interesting read last night, I stumbled upon a magazine (name escapes me) that was all about botox, fillers and a slew of other invasive procedures aimed at staying young looking. Says much about society!

      2. UGH. Not surprised at all; the latest Elle magazine has a story about/by a writer who’s already (!?) had 70+ (!?) such procedures and finally just went ahead and had a face lift. She is also about a decade behind me. 🙂

      1. I am truly sorry. I have never had anything horrible happen to me with a relationship, and I have said the wrong thing, often unintentional, many times. I watched my dear mother-in-law overlook my many faults. Everyone loved her, and I use her as a role model.

        I had also watched families not speak for years, and I watched the misery and stress. I decided years ago, that I would try to avoid this, and if I had to apologize to keep peace, even if it wasn’t my fault, I would. My lovely mother-in-law always said,”life is too short.” And now my inlaws, parents and brother are gone.

        Though we may not have gotten along perfectly, we always made amends. No regrets. I wish you well

      2. Thanks.

        Can’t be helped. The backstory is complicated and there’s an additional person in the mix (not a relative) whose behavior is both deeply hostile toward me and, I believe, financially predatory of my mother. It’s very common. 🙂 I’m in no mood to apologize to get past a woman whose behavior I believe is criminal to reach my own mother.

        I wish I had a MIL but nope. My friends, like many people in this situation, are my family and I treasure them.

  12. We need role models from the start, that’s just nature, however, as we get older we must learn to chose the right role models for us, those that are less likely to dissapoint us, and also to accept they´re just humans and for that fallible. Sometimes is not easy to find a role model that fits, and that’s ok, perhaps it means it’s our turn to become role models for somebody else.

    1. Good point. It’s too easy (and dangerous!) to put people on pedestals…too often, they’re just human after all. As we are. 🙂

      I’ve been told by a few people (which is lovely) that I’m also a role model.

  13. Hi. I enjoyed the site and this introductory article I stumbled across today. Role models are essential, and often people don’t realize it. I have had a few role models for different aspects or parts of my life. Often they are older, but there’s been a few people I admired and considered a role model of sorts, even tho they were a few years younger.

    I’d like to be a role model and mentor as I age. I find myself full of advice but reticent to offer it for fear of pushing someone in the wrong direction. Instead, I find by living a happy, healthy, honest and active life, it presents to others options they can consider for themselves. I’ve started a 365 Daily blog for just those reasons.

    It’s great to see you posting things like this, as well as so many responses. As for the who, how and when on role models… balancing across all mediums is the best approach. Volunteering somewhere, joining a community group, participating on a sports team / club, frequenting lectures or conferences helps build contacts and people in your life who you want to get to know and who eventually want to get to know you. And as we grow older, our mentors and influence changes, and we need different things. Thanks for sharing this one.

    1. Thanks for such a long and interesting reply!

      It’s very true — I’ve found my role models all across the world and all ages, and interests. Even someone I’ll never meet, like French sailor Isabelle Autissier, whose bravery stuns me.

      It’s a real honor to be a mentor or role model for others. I generally let them ask me for advice. 🙂

  14. Thought provoking. I don’t have any role model, but i do take inspiration from many. My grandmother, who believed firmly that everything happened for a good reason; my mother, who at 80, cooks reads quilts and feels the day should have more than 24 hours; my significant other half, for more reasons than i can enumerate here. Also the women i come across, underprivileged but determined to make the children achieve a better life. I am inspired by some of the blog posts i come across. So much inspiration all around!

  15. Lovely.. finding difficult what to say.. life is all about moving ahead in life. Ups and downs in life always make a person strong. In the struggle of life polishes a person like diamond since he/she is fighting alone with those situations and then shine like a star . Needing a role model- hmm no but yes I as a person admire my mother for have never seen a strong person like in life.. looking how well she manages even in hardships.

  16. I loved this piece..
    But for me I don’t think role models are necessary in our lives, because when we say role models we are relying on every of their life experience to be ours.

    1. Thanks.

      No one has a “perfect” life…so no one’s exact experience will ever be ours, even if we wanted it to be.

      It’s why celebrity worship, to me, is a total waste of time. I’ll never have that much $$$$$$ or a team of people making sure my life runs smoothly. They have both. 🙂

  17. EL PEREGRINO CONSTANTE

    Pienso que, más que modelos, necesitamos referentes. Además, es necesario poseer sentido común y valores que nos ayuden a orientar nuestra vida del modo más positivo a través de las sucesivas etapas.

      1. EL PEREGRINO CONSTANTE

        Por lo general, pensamientos inteligentes provocan ecos adecuados. De modo que tu eres la inductora. Gracias a ti.

  18. ueberfliegerthomas

    Unterstützt mein Visionäres Projekt und Gewinnt einen tollen Preis. Die Daten findet ihr auf meinem Blog.
    Follow, Help and Win.

  19. Role models are ageless, they can come into a life at any point to make a direct impression on your being. Look to anyone and everyone as a potential candidate that can shape your life for the better. At the end of the day, we are all simply children in a maturing shell seeking guidance on how to experience our own experience — Age brings no exception.

    Humbling read of the day 🙂

  20. Different role models for different reasons /facets: 1 woman recently died just 3 months ago at approx. 80 yrs., was a long time friend…for past few decades. She hired me shortly after I finished university and moved to Toronto. Role model for working her business networks in a gracious manner, helpful, supportive to me in my career. She had been single all her life with 1-2 men here and there. She bought and sold her own home, etc.

    Another woman also close to 80 was a longterm commuter and long distance cyclist for a few decades in Vancouver. A divorced woman (happened in her early 30’s), nurse and grandmother. She cycled across Canada …over 6,000 km. after she retired @65 yrs. She also has been a long time cycling advocate, patiently steering technical committee discussions with primarily male cycling advocates and municipal authorities.

    And others for other model best practices in life in certain areas for me.

    I am 58 myself with no children. I don’t consider myself a role model for anyone. Just do my own thing and if asked, I will offer an opinion in an area if I have some experience.

    1. Your friend in Toronto sounds very much like a woman there I know (my hometown), but she is (happily) still alive and recently married, late in life.

      It’s really helpful to be able to find women like these, even if, inevitably we lose them and vice versa.

      You may not consciously be (or want to be) a role model, but I bet you are for some people in your life. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting in such depth!

  21. You could be mine. I’m forever seeking mother figures… I think I could interchange ‘mother figure’ with ‘role model’. Twas a lovely read!

  22. There are a lot of people who inspire me or influence me positively, I wish to achieve like they have, I guess we need some people to inspire us, but one of the people who I follow once said that ” never look up to anyone or never look down on anyone” .
    I am influenced by a lot of people, but I don’t think I want to be like them, I want to create my own personality, and my own perceptions.

      1. Yes, I agree, we should take them as inspirations, like how much they have struggled to reach at that level, should respect that, not I want to look like her/him or dress like them etc 🙂

      2. It’s interesting — at least here in the U.S. (not sure where you live) – that struggle and failure are often very much hidden and disguised, as though the successful wake up that way. They don’t! 🙂

      3. I am from India. We all know one is not born successful, they struggle to be on the level where people take them as inspirations, and I believe the stories of one’s struggle should not be hidden bcoz inspiring others in my point of view is a really great thing, u should inspire as many people as u can, cuz maybe u r improving their lives, I read about the life of a lots of great personalities to get inspiration. 🙂

      4. I wonder if (?) it’s different there. I live in NY, which is an insanely competitive environment for a writer (for anyone!) and NO ONE ever breathes a word of struggle or failure because we all know 100000s of others would love to take our place if we appear weak or incompetent. 🙂

      5. It’s not really very different here, the environment is even more competitive (huge population), so the number of people struggling for one position is here and people don’t really show any kind of weakness bcoz they are aware of the situation. They just focus on their work instead of complaining, they are always trying to improve their work, so it’s mostly same in my point of view. ☺

      6. Interesting.

        I moved to the U.S. (300 m people,. more or less) from my native Canada (30 million, more or less.) It felt terrifying! India…must feel much more so.

      7. Haha , it has its good and bad effects, if managed properly it can give good results and if not it might result as a reason for fall of the country, in the competitive world it is actually very terrifying but gives us strength to work more and improve ourselves.

  23. Aww man, I love this post! It hits home for me in many ways! I too, chose the road less traveled. I’m going into the latter part of my twenties and all my closest friends are married with children. I’m a Flight Attendant and single as a dollar bill. Sometimes, the path I’ve chosen feels, wrong. Like there was a way carved for me and I simply neglected to take it. But when I take stock of my life and all the events that have shaped it, I love where I’m at! I love not being responsible for another precious life, it’s amazing not having to answer to a spouse, meeting new people and exploring the world brings me pure joy. Reading this reminds me of many of my colleagues: some of them didn’t start become Flight Attendants until they were in their fifties and sixties. I admire their bravery. Their courage not to settle for that ‘bifurcated path’ is admirable. In the past, I’ve worked with individuals in their seventies going back to school to further themselves. That’s amazing and a profound reminder that as long as we each have breath in our lungs, it is never too late. Although too often, older people and their needs are ignored, there are still those of us who are rooting for you. Watching you, praying that you continue to pave the road less traveled.

    Thank you for this great share:)

  24. This gave me real food for thought. I hadn’t considered the subject of role models prior to now but, on reflection, I can see exactly how relevant it is to my life – most notably in the fact that I don’t have any.

    This is a real issue.

    Having spent my 20s negotiating parenthood and other, less common experiences (I have one child who suffers from an ultra rare disease), I’m now at a crossroads attended by so many other women similar to myself (where we’ve established our identities within the context of being a mother, but achieved little for ourselves) and actually, the distinct absence of a role model who ‘fits’ the ideal of who I would like to be is making itself felt.

    Thanks for this – as an aspiring writer it’s definitely something I need to examine.

    1. Thanks for sharing this…

      I never had children, but many of my friends have, of course. I see this in their lives, as they necessarily subsume their own passions and talents to raise demanding young people — and anyone coping with special needs, especially. (Two of my friends have autistic children, so I’ve seen the toll it takes. It is considerable.) An ultra rare disease — that’s a serious challenge.

      The larger culture often deifies motherhood — or massive SUCCESS in other endeavors — but how to combine them? How does that work? So often, the ambitious women who get ahead have $$$ to hire help (nanny, etc) to take their place doing domestic work or a partner/husband who can do the heavy lifting.

      Achievement is difficult. I read a post yesterday that said: fitness/sleep/work/friends/family — choose three. It prompted some lively and candid conversation among my Facebook groups. (I choose sleep/fitness and work — but friends often outweigh work for me, as I have done a lot already in my career.)

      1. Society absolutely deifies motherhood; particularly here in Ireland – it’s almost sacrilegious to want to achieve as both a mother and a woman in your own right. Quite the battle. That post sounds interesting – I would probably have to plump for family, sleep and work as I’ve never been a particularly social creature. There is no doubt that fitness should feature in there somewhere; maybe in my forties, if I’ve managed to build a career, I’ll allow a little time for yoga to counteract work stresses!

      2. You have likely read (Irish Times) a young writer friend of mine, Sorcha Pollak, or heard her mom on the radio (Doireann ni Bhriain), who I’ve known for years…I’ve been to Ireland 5 times and loved it every time; my great grandfather was the schoolteacher in Rathmullan.

        I love visiting Ireland, but am also cognizant of how tough it can be on its women!

  25. I think role models can be good, but most importantly you should always be happy with yourself. If something makes me happy but everyones else thinks it’s odd I will continue doing it anyways 🙂

    1. I think trying to ape someone’s life is a real mistake, certainly.

      I’m happy with my unconventional life — as others should be — but I’m always open to advice and suggestion as well.

  26. I can so much relate to what you have said, in the sense I love to make my own path. Have always been doing something that most of the people cant figure out why I would do that. But I like to take inspirations from people who are exactly opposite. Coming from a conservative society, I have seen so many women (including my mother) who let go of their dreams to serve the purpose of others and their experiences inspire me to take a different route. Though I do sometimes wonder wouldn’t it be nice to have some guidance for the path that I choose every time?

    1. Right?!

      You need a stiff spine to behave in unconventional ways, and it can make for a very satisfying life…but a sometimes lonely one.

      When the vast majority of people make a set of choices — and yours are different — it’s harder to find someone who “gets” it. 🙂

  27. This is inspiring. It makes me thankful for the role models I have in my life. And to answer the topic question in my opinion, yes; we all need role models. Without at least one, how would we know the actions required to be successful in life? For those who don’t have a role model, whether we know them well or not, we need to step in and be one. They may not realize the title of what we’re doing is “role model”, but at least our actions and examples will be in their minds subconsciously when it comes time for them to make a decision.

    1. It’s an interesting shift in perspective to consider that — of course — we are often role models for others, even people our age or older.

      I work as a journalist, and spend my days observing and listening to others, so it’s an odd idea (although, why not?) to think that I, too, am a role model for some people. My job is to promote/describe/witness the ideas and actions of other people most of the time.

  28. Skippy

    This was a fantastic read, thank you so much for sharing. I’m not exactly an average person seeking an average life. Just this evening I was talking to my fiancé about paving 3 careers for myself whilst travelling the world. It scares me because it’s not exactly what’s done, you get married, have children, one job and settle down. I can’t stand the idea of settling for this life and am looking for inspiration from others who have succeeded at this.

    1. Go for it!

      The most essential element– health — is out of our control (beyond being careful with it), but having a partner/husband who absolutely encourages you is key. I’ll be traveling alone in Europe this summer for five weeks, the longest time I’ve been apart from my husband in 17 years, who will be traveling for work himself for two weeks in the U.S. while I’m voyaging solo.

      We miss each other already! 🙂

      The blend of autonomy and security, trusting in one another, is — for me — the greatest gift of a marriage. Not for others, but for me, and perhaps for you as well.

      I’ve never wanted to “settle down.” I do enjoy a solid marriage and the base of comfort and support we give one another through that.

      I love the sound of your ambitious adventures.

  29. I’m glad I stumbled upon this post. I’m new to blogging and WordPress.
    As a 21 year old, I can definitely agree with your post. Mentorship is a natural desire for anyone with the desire to grow and thrive. Those who seek mentorship tend to choose people who are older, but embody the ideals the individual has. With a role-model at side, there is a great sense of comfort and empowerment for the future.

    I wish the best for you and hope to one day be a successful blogger like you!

    1. Thanks!

      I didn’t have many role models at 21, but a few, and they were really important to my ambition. I wanted to become a photojournalist — and it was a HUGE thrill to spend an entire day shadowing one of my idols (Jill Krementz) when I was a newspaper reporter in Toronto.

      Imagine how it felt that we became Facebook friends recently….:-)

  30. Caitlin, I enjoyed your post and it was fascinating to hear about your experiences. Unlike most people, I never felt the desire to have a role model in my life. I believe that one should try to live his/her life by being what he/she wants to be. If one tries to emulate someone else, then that person’s personality may get diluted in his/her role model’s personality. However, I agree that it is beneficial for a person to have people to look up to in order to guide that person in the right direction. In one’s life, one can only make a few decisions in order to determine what that person will be perceived as, both to him/herself and to the world. We have to do what we believe is best for our current situation. Nobody can tell us how to do that, and no role model can teach us how. We can be guided, but we will never know for sure what are the correct choices to make. I think that we usually end up being more different than alike to those who we perceived to be role models. What do you think? How important do you think a role model is to the well being of a person?

    1. I think it depends. As I wrote in the blog post, it changes depending on age and circumstances…older women are ignored or dismissed by the mass media, which is where many of us get our information or look for advice.

      Without older women I trust and admire, it means I have few guideposts. I don’t desperately need them, but why not have someone to talk to about certain issues — and see how they handle them?

  31. For me role models are people to admire from afar so you only have a sense of their aura.

    I try and balance those around me who I take inspiration from. High achievers who seem to get where they want to get with hard work, and those on a similar level as me who I can recognise the stage that they are at and what are their daily struggle.

    If I think too long on those high achievers I can feel disempowered, too long with those who are at where I am then it is easy to feel complacent.

    When you are on that path less traveled, it’s important to make as many connections with any fellow travelers you might meet, because then your social group becomes the norm.

  32. maifmblog

    I was drawn to your post because I asked the same question. People search for someone to look up to, but why not become your own tole model when there lack of one. Set a new standard and way of life! I enjoyed you post because “the road less traveled” is so much more appealing.

    1. Thanks!

      I never wanted a conventional life — although I do admit, I wanted some of it: to own my own home (I do), and to have a steady, happy marriage. These have both given me a lot of joy and comfort. I’m not as bohemian as many others!

  33. Thanks for such a nice and relevant read. I have been on the search for role models as I have always known that I wouldn’t fit into the heteronormative life. So far the conglomerate of people that are in my role models list range from everyday heroes, celebrities such as J.K.Rowling and Cate Blanchett.
    I think it is important to have a varying list of role models as no lives are the same, and with unique experiences there are so much knowledge and inspiration to offer. Role models are important for me, as they are my unconscious mentors.

    1. Thanks for reading — and commenting!

      The mass media, by definition, offer a pretty limited set of possibilities — often it’s fellow bloggers or much smaller places that show us, and are, people whose personal qualities resonate more deeply.

      For me, it’s everyone from Queen Elizabeth I (what a life she led! SO many challenges, always surrounded by power-hungry men) to contemporaries like American choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose book The Creative Habit, is one I recommend to everyone.

  34. Pingback: Do we need role models? — Broadside | David Falor

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