The people we admire

“Don’t let them push you around,” she told me. “Stand your ground!”

“Admiration (is) our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.”

– Ambrose Bierce, American editorialist, journalist and satirist

“Don’t let them push you around,” she told me. “Stand your ground!”

Some years ago, I was preparing for a management meeting and feeling a little anxious. I shared my concerns with a dear friend and colleague, Ethel, who gave me her usual down-to-earth advice. I could always count on Ethel to be honest and tell it like it is.

Some might have called Ethel forthright or indomitable, while others may have referred to her as stubborn or even unreasonable. If I had asked Ethel, she would likely agree with all the descriptions and place them under the heading of feisty. Petite with sparkling blue-green eyes, a mischievous grin and fiery red hair, Ethel was a “feisty” force to be reckoned with.

If there was a perceived injustice she would be the first to stand up and call foul. And it wasn’t that Ethel fought every battle. No, she was strategic and seemed to know — almost intuitively — when to speak her mind and when to hold her piece. On the other hand, if someone deserved a pat on the back, Ethel was again the first to say, “Good job!” Though Ethel was never in a position of authority over me or a manager of any sort, I often sought her wise counsel.

It seemed to me that this little woman (whom I admired greatly) had nearly limitless courage and resourcefulness. I once asked her how she was able to be so feisty.

“I guess I have a keen sense of what’s right and wrong,” she replied and then added, “I think I got it from my mother.” Ethel’s mother had run a successful farming operation and raised two small children after the sudden death of her husband at a young age. No small feat.

Ethel had told me that from her mother she had learned courage, perseverance and the power of hope.

Whom do you admire? Who is your role model?

A former teacher, a politician, a colleague, a singer or actor — a writer?

True role models (like Ethel) are people who possess qualities we would like to possess and, through their positive example, inspire us to become better, more accomplished individuals. Consider the impact positive role models have had upon you.

Think of the people who have inspired you: individuals who demonstrated values, ways of thinking and acting that moved you to want to be more, do more and know greater joy.

Parents are our initial and typically most influential role models (certainly at a young age) and, by setting a positive example, can help us grow into positive, contributing members of society.

In dysfunctional families, where one or both parents set less than inspiring examples, the negative impact on a growing child’s self-esteem can be long-ranging.

When I think of the role models in my life, they seem to share various positive qualities.

The first would be a passion for life and living and the ability to inspire others around them. As with so many of the role models in my life, each has shown a passion for his or her work — whatever that happened to be — and the capacity to infect others with that passion and enthusiasm.

The people I admire most each demonstrated a clear set of values. Positive role models live their values in the real world. I have often said that truth is in behaviour and positive role models demonstrate congruency or harmony between what they say and what they do. They talk the talk and they walk the walk. As an example, Ethel had often told me to stand my ground and, on many occasions, I watched her do just that and with courage and poise.

Role models are often other-focused as opposed to self-focused. We admire people who strive to make the world a better place and positive people do just that, whether by serving on local boards, reaching out to neighbours in need or by coaching the little league team.

And not surprisingly, we admire people who show us — by words and actions — that success, love and joy are possible. Positive role models have been linked to self-efficacy, improved self-esteem and the ability to believe in ourselves. Role models play an important role in inspiring us to learn, overcome obstacles and understand that positive values can be lived each day.

I’ve used the term positive role models, but a negative role model can also teach us a positive life lesson. Viewed from the standpoint of self-awareness, a negative role model can provide us with a living example of choice and consequence — of how not to live our lives.

I came to admire Ethel greatly — I wanted to be more like her.

She became a role model to me.

Shy by nature, I longed for the qualities of courage and fortitude that seemed to come so easily to her.

And like her mother taught her, Ethel taught me courage, perseverance and hope.

If I had told Ethel that she was a role model, she would probably have smiled and shook her head.

I think part of being a role model is also being grounded — to have grace and humility.

I think some of the most power role models (at least in my life) didn’t set out to be role models at all.

They simply lived their lives with integrity and purpose and in doing so made a difference.

“Being a role model is a privilege,” declared Allyson Felix, American track and field sprint athlete.

If you’re going to be a role model, choose to be a positive influence on others.

By choosing to be a positive role model yourself, you can have an equally inspiring impact on another person’s life.

“Never tell me the sky’s the limit when (I know) there are footprints on the moon.”

— Author Unknown

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at

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