Of Role Models, Life Lessons, and Gratitude

Inspiration word cloud with abstract backgroundRole models. No matter what our age, child or adult, we benefit from having role models in our lives — people we look up to and learn from as we seek to become more and more truly ourselves.

Our role models may be parents or other family members, friends (usually older, although we can often learn from those younger than we are as well), teachers and other leaders. These role models are close to us. They are people we may be in daily contact with. Public figures such as politicians, musicians, actors and others — people we may never meet — also often become role models for us.

In my own life, I have role models in all these categories, who have given me great examples to learn from as I was growing up and throughout my life: people who have challenged me, opened my mind to new thoughts and ideas, and have helped me continue to explore who I am, and who I can be. I am grateful to them all.

At some time or other, most kids admire someone who is a musician or an actor (or both), someone our society labels as “famous.” Often kids change their focus of admiration more than once as they themselves change and grow. All this is completely natural.

I think it’s important, though, to look beyond the “fame” and look at the whole person when seeking a role model — whether one is a child, or middle-aged, or somewhere in between. I talk a lot about “shining” on this website. By that I don’t mean the glitzy stuff, but rather learning to shine as the person you are meant to be. The person I want to talk about today is a “shining” example.

I am grateful that one person I admired when I was a child has become more and more of a role model for me over the past fifty years, not because of her many talents — although I certainly admire and appreciate her talent — but because of the person she has shown herself to be over the years. I would wish for all kids, and adults, that they could find such a role model.

Tomorrow, October 1st, 2015, this woman — Julie Andrews — will celebrate her 80th birthday. In tribute, I’d like to share with you a few of the things I have learned about life, about myself, about others, from this woman.

Your age doesn’t need to limit you. That’s true whether you’re young or middle-aged or older. Ms. Andrews certainly shows that in her current life, since she continues to be active in writing, dramatic directing, speaking engagements, and other involvements.

Through her picture book series, The Very Fairy Princess (written with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton), she shows how a little girl can make a difference in the lives of those around her by encouraging them to “let their sparkle out” — which is something Ms. Andrews certainly does, and has done since she was a young girl singing on stage and wowing audiences.

Friends and family are more important than fame. When we’re growing up, many of us — especially those who are involved in the arts — dream about being famous. When I have heard Ms. Andrews interviewed, and she’s been asked what is most important in her life, it isn’t the perks of fame that she mentions; it is her family, her grandchildren, her close friends. We all would do well to treasure family and friends above all else.

Learn to look. Look at the world around you, look closely at every small and large thing, and really see what is there. My mother used to urge people to “look for the beauty.” Ms. Andrews echoes that. In her book The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, the Professor says,

“There aren’t many people in this world who really know how to look. Usually one glance is enough to register that grass is green and the sky is blue and so on. They can tell you if the sun is shining or if it looks like rain but that’s about all. It’s such a pity, for there is texture to everything we see, and everything we do and hear. That’s what I want today’s lesson to be about. I want you to start noticing things. Once you get used to doing it you’ll never be able to stop. It’s the best game in the world.”

Learn as much as you can, and develop all your talents. Some people put all their hopes and dreams and plans and work into one narrow focus. Ms. Andrews’ life of music, and acting, and writing, and directing, and exploring new ways to use her talents has taught me — and can teach anyone whether young or old — to embrace new experiences, to challenge myself, and to find ways of using all the talents I have been given.

Be resilient. Life doesn’t always go as planned. While Ms. Andrews was still enjoying her lustrous career as a singer, a surgical procedure that did not go as planned drastically changed her ability to sing. She had to come to terms with that, and find a way to go on — and she did so very successfully, teaming with her daughter to write many wonderful books for children, expanding her involvement in theatre to include directing, and finding many ways to advocate for the arts and for creativity. This has taught me much about being resilient when roadblocks come up in my life and my work.

For these things and more, I am grateful to my role model. As she celebrates her 80th birthday, I wish Ms. Andrews all the best, and wish her many more years in which to love, learn, laugh, and let her sparkle out!

As I said at the beginning of this post, we all have role models, some famous, many more who are not. These role models are worthy of celebration. Next week, I’ll tell you about another of my role models, one of the ones who isn’t famous.

My challenge to you today is to think about who your own role models are, what they have taught you, and then, if you are able, find some way to express your gratitude to them. You’ll be glad you did.

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