Inspiration vs obsession: view your role models the rational way

Do you have a role model? Someone who exemplifies what you would want to achieve? Great! It’s good to have something to aspire to. But… make sure it’s healthy inspiration, not obsession that will eventually burn you out or lead you down the wrong path.

Here’s how not to lose yourself in today’s world of gurus and self-made, overnight billionaires.

It is good to have some role models

Having role models is good – it keeps you going. It is proof, that whatever you desire, is possible. You can find out how to get started and what to do, to get there. Or it gives you new ideas and options – maybe you can be successful in areas that you would not think of off the bat.

Evolutionary reason for role models?

Yes, that might be the case. Based on the logic of Dunbar’s number – where our brains developed in groups not bigger than 150 people and therefore are subconsciously seeking this number, we are probably following people online for the same reason. Whereas ages ago, if we lived in a community, we would meet those people often during our daily chores. But in today’s socially closed world, where our family and relatives group is actually smaller, plus we meet them less often – we might be trying to replace these connections with following the lives of famous people online.

Technology today enables you to find and follow many more leaders, successful people and role models than ever before. But this can be a disadvantage at the same time, more on that later.

And on top of that, even if you are not looking for new role models, you will be bombarded by YouTube, Facebook or Instagram adverts of self-made millionaires, marketing gurus, fitness experts, who are making millions as they sleep just by following these three simple steps… But this is for another time – just make sure you don’t fall for cheap marketing tricks, look for proof of success from other sources, doublecheck.

It’s not who you follow, but how (your why)

Following someone’s success, advice and life might give you a clearer path towards your goal. Hey, if they did it, why not you right? Nope. Do you have their parents? Do you have their environment? Circumstances? Do you live where they do, speak to the people they do? No, you don’t. Ergo, no, you can’t just follow their steps and achieve what they did.

This is a crucial realisation to avoid beating yourself up for not achieving a goal set by using the wrong mindset. To avoid burning out.

Always keep in mind that:

They are just people too

It’s easy to read about most successful people, what made them successful, what media think made them rich, what they say made them who they are.

Stop and think – if you were interviewed about your success, what would you tell them? Would you focus on good things or also on the bad? The procrastination, the mistakes, the failures, the actual time it took to get there? You probably wouldn’t. Even if you would, the media might leave it out. It is very hard to see the real picture of what steps lead to their success.

All the successful people are also human as you and me. They have (or had, this goes for anyone from the history as well) bad habits too, bad days, bad moods. They made mistakes. These things just get lost on the way and we end up with a polished, shiny picture of their journey.

There’s no bigger foe to personal development than idolisation of your role models (Steve Jobs anyone?). And that’s what happens when you read all the tales and glorified stories, retold and adjusted each time.

Once you accept that you will never know the full story and that they certainly had bad days, they were also lazy sometimes – you will feel less pressure – if things go differently for you. Because they will, you are a different person in different circumstances, with a different network and opportunities – in a different time. Their success is only one side of the story. How was their love life? Their family life? Were they healthy? How long did they live? What would their friends say about them? Were they charitable?

There are always more ways to look at success – or – success should be evaluated comprehensively using a matrix of indexes from various areas of life, not just one of these areas. A successful person isn’t the one who is wealthy, but his health and family / social life is in shreds. Or a person who has a great family and business, but he has shortened his life greatly to achieve that.

Once you realize they had their mistakes too, you won’t waste time focusing on perfection, but action and moving forward whilst keeping calm instead.

Their grass only seems greener

What do you see by looking at your role model? Only what they want you to see. Or what the media want you to see. You don’t see their real life, their relationship problems, family problems, health issues, stress or breakdowns. That happens behind the curtains. And it would just be naive to assume it doesn’t happen.

Make sure you don’t let your grass is greener on the other side syndrome distort your view of reality.

Luck plays a much bigger role than we care to admit

Derek from Veritasium summarised it very nicely in his video about success and luck. (By luck I mean random chance). In short – luck plays a much bigger role in people’s achievements than you might think. Even the ones at the top didn’t get there because they worked harder than their competitors. They probably worked just as hard, but they got the top spot by sheer luck, nothing else.

Their advice – but in YOUR circumstances

Whatever worked for someone somewhere in the world *might* work for you – or not. Always apply their advice to your circumstances. Sometimes you just can’t do what they did, and that’s ok – don’t see the exact steps, but the thinking behind them.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

All the biases and fallacies at work…

You know what? Whatever they think they did to achieve their success might also be wrong. Or inaccurate. Why? Because they can’t remember all the elements that worked together to allow them to do what they did. They just remember what they think helped. They can’t / won’t remember or mention some random lucky facts – where or to whom they were born, what they inherited, who they randomly met that helped them step up or just recommended them without them knowing. There’s always much more at play than what our own eyes see. By working harder, you make sure that if luck is at play, it’s more likely to work. But hard work on its own doesn’t always work.


It’s good to work hard on something, to have goals and role models. Just ensure it’s all healthy and you don’t try to follow someone’s exact steps. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work for you, even if you think you work as hard as your role model – your luck (i.e. random chance) is different.

Things take time, keep at it and you’ll achieve YOUR success. Don’t compare your success with others, compare it with your previous achievements.

Do it the stoic way – give your best and be happy with the knowledge that you did your best, whatever the result – because that’s the only thing you can influence yourself. All the rest is a random chance – there’s no point in being upset about that.

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