Why we should see them and why we should be them.
Do you remember who your female role models were as a girl? A relative, perhaps - maybe an aunt who you perceived as glamorous, or a teacher. An activist, a singer, an actress, even a politician?
How about as a young woman? Were female role models available to you then? Maybe your mother or grandmother (once past puberty and you shed the scales from your eyes ;-) )
Mark Thomas writes:
“Our happiness is very much based on our perception of how our life should or could be and the gap between that and how it is in reality.”
Therefore we are hard wired, if you like, to look for role models to inspire us to become the very best we can be.
I looked up to both my grandmothers. One raised me, the other simply loved me and their influence remains with me to this day.
As I approached middle age, I found myself seeking out new role models - women who shine in their fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond. Women whose attitudes, resilience and joy I can aspire to attain.
“People seldom improve when they have no other role model but themselves to copy.” – Oliver Goldsmith.
At the same time, I began to notice younger women asking my advice, or simply seeking out my company. It was surprising to me and, I have to admit, rather gratifying. I found myself feeling flattered, then humbled as I realised what a privilege it is to become a role model for the younger generation.
This is where a huge sense of responsibility arises - it behoves us to live the lives we were born to live, not hide ourselves away.
This famous poem by Marianne Williamson (which has been apparently mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela) sums up for me what it means to shine a light for others:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Quite. Role models don’t have to be perfect. In fact, seeing someone overcome a problem that you are battling can be both inspiring and encouraging. The simple realisation that you are not alone can be extraordinarily powerful. Which of us hasn’t faced a situation, or an emotion that, in the moment, we have believed to be unique to us? Shame, fear, guilt - all of these things are barriers to both recovery and self development.
For that is what role models - seeing them and being them - is all about, isn’t it? Finding people who have trodden a path we want to follow, or overcome a problem we are facing. Role models serve to show us what is possible. Whether we know them in real life or only through a public persona, they give us hope when we feel hopeless, spur us on to succeed and their presence comforts us when we feel low.
So how do we become role models for the next generation?
First of all, consider your role models, both past and present and ask yourself - have they really served me?
While I was thinking about this blog, I realised that my adored grandmother actually modelled self sacrifice for me. She always put everyone before herself, to the detriment of her own happiness and well being.
Of course, I will always love her, with all my heart: she influenced me in very many positive ways too. But it’s made me question some of my own deeply held values and, frankly, unsettled me. Who would I be without those inherited beliefs about duty and self sacrifice? Who could I be if I let them go?
It’s a question I shall ponder over the coming weeks, I’m sure! Perhaps you too will recognise some unhelpful beliefs you absorbed from your role models. Or perhaps you will conclude that, actually, the women you have looked up to impacted your life in a wholly positive way.
We can take the responsibility literally and seek out mentorship programmes, or lead youth organisations like the Girl Guides, or teach. Or we can simply set about living our lives with confidence, purpose and joy. Leading by example is a quietly powerful gift - live your life with confidence and purpose and you will influence more young women than you know!
Perhaps you are lacking in those things now you have hit the menopause years? Maybe you are reading this and thinking, that’s all very well, but I can barely motivate myself, never mind hold myself up as a shining example of womanhood!
I hear you. I’ve been you. Sometimes it’s all we can do to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. But if you are in the fog right now, you WILL come out the other side, I promise you!
The Midlife Movement can help you embrace your middle years with less stress and more joy! How?
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