There are so many articles being published of late that speak to the “top things successful people do.” I find these a useful reference mostly, but when I really think about the things I need to do, the behaviors I want to instill, or the steps I must take to make myself a better person, I turn to those I have admired most—my female role models.
As a woman, I tend to look to other women as my role models. There are many that I have looked up to over my lifetime, and that net continues to widen as the years progress. Those that inspired me early on include a host of well-known people like Katherine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Amelia Earhart, Gloria, Steinem, Mary Tyler-Moore, Marlo Thomas, and comedians like Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Lucille Ball, and Gilda Radner. Later came people like Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Maria Shriver, Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Melissa McCarthy, Lisa Kudrow, and so many more. All are women who showed passion, enthusiasm, intelligence, wit, humor, positivity, tenacity, and fearlessness—all traits I deeply admire—and they built amazing lives for themselves.
I am constantly thinking about those I admire most as I face each day. How did or do they impact the world? What did they do to create something wonderful? I like to think about the qualities they each have as I work to shape my own character, making decisions about who I want to be, or where I want to go next. These mavericks, these pioneers, these dynamic women—they are:
- Positive. I grew up around a few negative people. No matter what the situation, they always found the downside. This creates an incredibly heavy burden on those of us who are close to them. As I grew older and engaged with others, and really watched those I admire most, I realized the rest of the world wasn’t like this. I did my best to surround myself with positive people who looked to find the good in their situation, and that took control of their own life and happiness. I’m not a Pollyanna type, but I firmly believe that how we think impacts what we create for ourselves. Viewing life and opportunities with a positive perspective can position us for some pretty awesome experiences—we must embrace it with a good attitude.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” – Helen Keller
- Grateful. Keeping in step with a positive outlook is the ability to express gratitude. I find myself slipping into the trap of wishing certain things could be different just like anyone else, but I try to practice gratitude at least first thing in the morning and before I go to bed at night. From my home, my health, friends and family, experiences and opportunities, and just those simple or small moments—there are an infinite number of things for which to be grateful. Being appreciative of what we have now opens the doors to more wonderful things. My role models recognized this.
- Fearless. This is one of those traits that I probably recognized first in those I respected. The ability to take risks, fail gracefully and learn from failure, to say no when your didn’t want to do something, or to say yes to an opportunity knowing you’ll figure it out afterwards—being fearless is the only way to get what we truly want. There are so many times and so many reasons we tell ourselves not to go for an opportunity, or that we shouldn’t take a chance, always listening to those internal voices telling us we can’t succeed or we’re not good enough. It’s so easy to see the success in others and think we can never do what they did. To quote Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
“All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.” – Malala Yousafzai
- Focused. Successful people have a very clear vision of what they want; they develop a strategy, get specific on goals, and develop a plan. They are laser focused on meeting their goals, but remain flexible on how to get there. They are committed, only accepting activities in their life that support their vision. They eliminate distractions and don’t compromise their goals. Having that level of clarity about what it is we want is a challenge for many of us. For me, if I’m unclear, I try to select things that may be part of the journey to something else. Rather than remain paralyzed trying to think about what I want in the larger sense, I at least take action on smaller or shorter-term goals, each of those bringing further clarity to my larger vision.
- Passionate. Did you ever meet someone new and watch their eyes light up and their energy increase as they talked about what it is they are working on, what charity they are involved with, or what they do for fun? That’s passion. And it may be that there isn’t that same passion for the entire project or activity, but maybe it’s one element of what they are enthusiastic about that drives this passion. As a society I think we are so hung-up on ‘finding our passion’ that we forget most of us have to take a lot of action to figure it out. It could be it’s one small piece of a larger pie, but it gives us that spark for the things we do. Try new things and explore different ideas and the passion will emerge.
- Confident. I love watching someone with confidence. Not arrogance, but that mark of self-assuredness as they enter a room or speak to an audience. I find an ease knowing they have something interesting to say, and that they believe in their abilities and experiences to say it well. The more experiences we gain in our lives, the more we learn, the more we read, and simply educate ourselves, our level of confidence increases. It’s as simple as that. Each of my role models has a powerful confidence in themselves and the impact they are making.
- Empowered. Along with confidence, my role models armed themselves with something that made them feel empowered to do great things. Whether that was a good education, information, spirituality, a strong network, technology, access to resources, inner strength, or the simple belief in themselves, they embraced what worked and changed the world around them. When you are empowered, mountains can be moved.
“It’s your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don’t take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find the humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver.” – Betty White
- Funny. As you noticed, several of my role models are smart and funny women. I love being with people who have a great sense of humor and can laugh and appreciate the humor in life. Particularly as we suit up with heavy armor everyday and take on the world—laughter and a great sense of humor can mean the difference between victory or defeat.
- Creative. For most of my career, I’ve been surrounded by corporate types. I get a huge jolt of inspiration once I spend time with those I consider creatives. But truthfully, we all have some level of creativity in us. For some, it may be more obvious than others, and there are so many different ways of expressing creativity. As I’ve watched those that I admire, I do pick up on a few tips and tricks to pull into my own practices. One thing in particular is keeping a notebook with me at all times. This allows me to capture ideas, stories, quotes, event notes, and even track my successes each week. I try to review my notebook daily to reflect and inspire me to try new things. Having this visual reference sparks creativity in the work that I do or hope to do in the future.
- Reflective. If we keep moving forward at breakneck speed and don’t stop to reflect on where we’ve been or what we’ve done, I don’t think we can truly learn from or appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Taking moments to just review the day or the week, making note of small successes and lessons learned, thinking about the people we came in contact with, the wonderful moments we’ve had—these can provide us a sense of achievement, fulfillment, and show progression. It also forces us to be in the moment appreciating why we do what we do. Reflection is a great practice for true growth.
Who are your role models? What traits or characteristics do you admire most about those you look up to? Do you do anything special to ensure you bring these qualities into your own life? Share your story.