Who was your role model as a kid?
Gosh...I don't know?!
The first person that came to me was Michael Jordan. I'm assuming you know Michael Jordan...? The American basketball player who is said to be the greatest basketball player of all time. His trademark Air Jordan sneakers and apparel are still sold on mass today worldwide. I got my first pair of Jordans in primary school. I actually used to place them on a chair next to my bed so my basketball boots were the first thing I looked at when I woke up. Yeah I did that...What?! They had speckled multi coloured soles and velcro...can you blame me? :)
You may know the commercial promoting the drink Gatorade in the 90's where a choir of kids, men and women sing 'Like Mike, if I could be like Mike'...teamed with a video clip of people playing basketball, imitating MJ's signature moves. It sounds like a song out of the movie The Lion King or something...lots of drumming, emotion-stirring stuff. He really was pinned as a king during that time of his sporting career. That song was a bit of an anthem of the 90's. I wasn't the only one who wanted - or still wants - to be like Mike.
It's weird when reflecting on who I admired and looked up to when I was younger. I collected both basketball cards and football cards. I spent countless dollars (pinched from dad's coin jar) on sports cards, placing pictures of these random men into their clear plastic pockets with great precision. Taking my card folder to school, getting recognition from the boys for having cards they wanted.
This may all sound like your typical experience of many kids growing up, idolising certain sports stars, celebrities, musicians...copying what they wear, their moves, how they act, what they do etc.
Not much of a big deal...right???
Well...now that I'm a 34 year old woman/school teacher and not a 12 year old tom boy/student anymore, I know there is no possibility the people I looked up to in my early years would even gain a look in today. And there is no way I would be sleeping next to my sneakers...although let's be honest: I still love shoes ! :)
Why don't I want to be like Mike anymore?
It only takes a quick google search to see photographs and headlines of Jordan cigar smoking, cigar smoking and more cigar smoking. Jordan playing golf with a cigar in mouth, stories of gambling addiction, partying, being a womanizer, marriage breakdown, being abusive to teammates...the list goes on. We may say 'what's the big deal, we can't judge...people can do what they want in their personal life!' While this is true to an extent, this is not about defending people's questionable choices. This is about the fact that when we look up to someone, like a sport star or celebrity for example, we don't just get the person's skills and talents to shoot heaps of hoops, kick lots of goals or hit the high notes, we get the whole way that person lives up until that game, that score, that performance. So while our so-called role models are often very skilled in what they do, the way they behave, party and take care of themselves (or not) is also clocked by their fans, both young and old.
How often do we hear about celebrities we pin as really 'having it together', later confessing or being exposed for being a mess in other areas of their life?
How often do we hear about another sports star getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol?
How often do we see celebrities or sports stars not know what to do with themselves when they are no longer working in the lime light?
Being a teacher and a youth worker, I get to see myself as a kid over and over again. I see children and teenagers play out similar things to what I did when I was their age. Only Mike today maybe Miley, or Miley may be Bieber, or Bieber may be Beckham, or Beckham may be Jolie...the list of celebrities and sports stars could go on and on.
The point is, I see young people wanting to be like everyone else but themselves. Chameleoning themselves depending on who's hot that month. Changing fashion, attitudes, ways of talking and walking. Changing what they talk about, listen to and play. Changing how they behave or who they hang out with, date, follow online etc.
So where does that leave us?
Wanting to be the best and super competitive like Mike? The fastest, prettiest, skinniest, buffest, most daring? In comparison to others, never settling and accepting we are enough, driving ourselves to achieve and succeed based on these external images we are measuring ourselves against. Or perhaps the opposite - giving up in some way, retreating into an online world, burying ourselves in work, hiding in relationships, hobbies etc.
So when we are asked the question - Do you see yourself as a role model? - It is super interesting to see if we allow ourselves to really go there with the qualities we naturally bring and simply are. As opposed to focusing on the stuff we 'do' and the skills we are 'good' at. Do we truly value and appreciate what we model naturally to others, knowing that our choices are influential and super inspiring? Or do we pretend to be unaware that our every movement is being clocked by our kids, others and even ourselves...just like I used to clock the signature moves of Michael Jordan.
"Like me, I want to be simply me!"
Now that's a theme song for the new millennium :)
By Emilia Pettinato