I get slightly uneasy when anyone tells me I am their role model… and here is why: most days I am not exactly sure what I am doing. However I am learning that some (most?) times, the best inspiration comes from ordinary people living the very best way they can with no charades or affectation.
Quite recently I watched a TV show which is fast becoming one of my favorites: Undercover Boss. The show follows top executives who go under a guise of lower-level employees to study the inner-workings of the companies they run. In one episode (which followed what happened when the camera stops rolling); two gentlemen meet because of a shared history of alcoholism. Background: the Chief Development Officer (E) of Subway (the fast food chain) had in a previous episode shared his problems with alcoholism. Two days after it aired, he received an email from a viewer (J), a recovering alcoholic who was having a hard time staying sober. E responds to the email, they strike an acquaintance and J is encouraged to keep away from the bottle. Two years later, when they meet for the first time (in the episode that was showing), J mentions how grateful he is that a ‘Big man’ like E cared enough to respond to his email. It is E’s response, that resonates with me: He said: “J, you are actually the bigger man, your email and subsequent progress made me realise that everything I put into the show was worth it.”
This brings me to a conversation I had with one of my favourite persons, NJ, someone you would consider by ‘normal’ standards as very successful i.e. at the peak of her career, wonderful family etc.. We were stuck in traffic when I asked her who inspired her, she mentioned it was:
*The tired-looking hawker from whom we had just bought groundnuts and who with all the enthusiasm she could gather convinced us to buy more than we actually could eat
*the committed and hardworking nanny who took fantastic care of her grandchildren
*the office secretary from years back who did her job with incredible professionalism and finesse.
There were many other examples but in summary, she was inspired (and challenged) by the ‘ordinary women’ who with dedication and commitment were doing the seemingly impossible, living a life of service to their families, careers and communities.
When I was younger, my role model was Oprah Winfrey (I have read too many books about her, watched probably all her shows and wrote letters to her- I doubt my dad mailed them though…😂😂). I admired this bubbly woman who had built a career and an empire from her best attribute: TALKING and who possessed such kind heart. I still admire her and nurse a faint hope that I will meet and talk to her one day (the closest I have come to was at Madame Tussauds 😜). However as I grew up the people who inspired me most and challenge my perspective on life are those who in spite of their lot in life (plenty or little) were/are making the very best out of it. There are just too many to count; (one long-term project of mine is to write about such people) but this time I will mention three of them: a wife, a single mum and a widow:
AEH: A wife and mother of 5 girls, 5 because each time her husband wanted a boy. When I first met her she was unhappy, not confident and living with a man who was convinced that the woman is responsible for the sex of a child. He was therefore trying for a boy with another women. From years of selling gari and now working at a bakery she is raising the most amazing, intelligent and confident young women I have met. She will have a nurse soon, for the other four we are still working on what to do, it changes everyday but that is fine…there is plenty of time. 😌😁
AO: A single mum for >20 years. Abused by the man she married twice, but brave enough to walk away both times. The taunts of being unmarried and unmarrieageable kept her down only for a while, but she chose the best for herself and her kids. A future for her kids. A good example for her daughter; that domestic violence doesn’t mean love and you can and should walk away. An example for her son that loving another person is not a right to abuse. They are better young adults for her difficult choice and her example.
JOO: An excellent scientist and teacher and an even better mother. One of the strongest women I know. Not daunted by tragedy. Sustained by her faith in God, lives her life with a sure and certain hope.
I do not (totally) believe in role models anymore, I do believe in admiring people, learning about/from them, being inspired and motivated by them and guided by their example; living the best life in your particular context, environment and with the opportunities you have /get.
So if at the end of my life, just one person says “I was moved, motivated, inspired to do this because of something Ama said or did by living her life” …it would have been worth it… and I probably wont have to come back as a goldfish. 😂😂