Most of us are introduced to the concept of role models as kids. We seek out individuals we can use as examples for how we want to approach our daily lives, what type of impact we want to have through our relationships, and the kind of work we want to do artistically and professionally. If you’re like me, writing any type of essay on a meaningful role model for school was difficult—mainly based on the task of trying to choose a single role model.
Part of the challenge in seeking out role models and mentors as a multipotentialite is accepting the reality that you probably won’t find a single individual who shares all of your diverse interests and pursuits. Frankly, this is probably for the best, because it ultimately encourages us to create our own paths as multipotentialites, rather than seeking out someone else’s trail to follow.
With that being said, the pressure to identify specific role models to use as points of reference in guiding our own lives remains. After all, having a variety of role models that we relate to can help us feel more confident in the decisions we make, artistically, professionally, and personally.
Throughout the past few years, I have jumped between role models in the same way that multipotentialites often switch from subject to subject. I used to identify a role model whose work and life trajectory aligned with whatever my priority was at the moment, and see what I could learn from them to apply in my own life. The takeaways from this approach helped me for whatever pursuit I shared with the role model I had in mind, but when my priorities shifted to something else I sought out a new role model for ideas and guidance.
Since we’re unlikely to find role models that holistically overlap with all of our multipotentialite interests and values, identifying multiple role models who align with certain parts of our long-term pursuits and goals can serve as a source of inspiration to build our own unique life trajectories. While that tactic has served me well, I also know that it doesn’t particularly make sense for the role models I seek out to be associated with specific aspects of my work or whatever type of project I’m prioritizing at any given time.
So, what kinds of role models can multipotentialites seek out for more consistent inspiration and guidance, even as our roles or priorities change and evolve? I’ve come up with five types of role models to serve as sources of inspiration and empowerment in different areas of your multipotentialite life, and they do not need to be directly tied to specific areas of your work or hobbies. While you definitely can choose some role models who share your interests or work in similar areas, they will also possess traits that can provide insights about other areas of your life.
Notably, these role models are not intended to be people you negatively compare yourself with or whose accomplishments or personality traits leave you feeling inferior. If you do find yourself comparing your own characteristics to those of your role models, you can reframe those comparisons into a more healthy and constructive framework.
1. Your Process & Workflow Role Model
This is a person whose creative process, workflow, or overall approach to their projects inspires you. This role model should be someone whose artistic or professional approach to their work aligns with your own values and goals. In identifying a process role model, you might look for someone whose creative process or workflow is similar to yours while also leaving room for you to grow. This type of role model can be especially helpful to support the way you choose to approach your work, or to reaffirm how your process works for you when your workflow might differ from that of others you know. You could also seek out a process role model whose creative process reflects changes you’d like to make in how you approach your work.
For me as a writer, one of the most impactful workflow role models for me has been Leonard Cohen, whose work I was introduced to at a writing workshop in 2021. The facilitator compared one of my pieces to his work, which I now realize is probably the best compliment I have ever gotten! Besides exploring many of the themes I am interested in writing about, Cohen’s famously methodical and often painstaking writing process helped me to embrace my own approach to writing poetry and lyrics. Having Cohen as an artistic role model not only motivates me to keep working at my craft, but it helps to reaffirm the value of sticking to the process that works best for me, even when other writers I know can seem to generate work more rapidly.
2. Your Self-Advocacy Role Model
This is someone whose ability to effectively represent themselves, advocate for their needs, and stand up for themselves provides you with a framework to do so for yourself. This individual might be someone whose advocacy is a major part of their life, or they might be someone who conducts themselves in their daily interactions in a way that inspires you. Self-advocacy role models provide you with examples of how to stand up for yourself and cultivate self-respect and authentic confidence.
One of my self-advocacy role models is Yasmin Benoit, an asexual advocate and activist. Through her advocacy, Yasmin raises awareness and promotes understanding of asexuality, aromanticism, and issues facing LGBTQIA+ people of color. Beyond the actual work she does, something I respect about Yasmin is the way that she stands up for herself and effectively represents her perspectives. In the face of personal attacks on social media and other platforms, Yasmin reframes people’s ad hominem insults and irreverent logical fallacies in the context of broader issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community. This approach further amplifies her message and contributes to her credibility as a trusted advocate for her community. I’m inspired by the way Yasmin connects with people and maintains her focus on the overall message that she aims to get across. Her story also motivates me to approach disagreements by keeping the big picture in mind and remember the value in respectfully defending yourself and your position, even when it might be uncomfortable.
3. Your Impact Role Model
An impact role model should be someone whose overall effect on the people around them—or even on the world—relates to the type of impact you would like to have. This person’s impact can stem from their creative or professional work, interpersonal relationships, mentorship of others, advocacy, or simply the attitude about life that they embody. Impact role models might be similar to, or overlap with self-advocacy role models, but your focus in choosing an impact role model should also involve the desired outcomes of your work and relationships. Notably, the impact you hope to have does not need to be on the same scale as people that you view as impact role models. Instead, you can emphasize how you want to have a similar effect on individuals in your own local community or personal relationships.
Selena Gomez is one of my impact role models, based on her mental health advocacy and philanthropy through the Rare Impact foundation. She helps to raise awareness and advance the conversation around mental health, and I see her positive influence on individuals as a type of supportive impact that can be replicated on a smaller scale in my own life. I also view Selena Gomez as modeling the power of intentional creative and career decisions, because her work and public persona (including her decisions to be inactive or active on social media) reflect an embodiment of her values and priorities.
4. Your Evolution & Longevity Role Model
A role model in this area is someone whose personal growth, evolution, and continuing creative and personal innovation throughout their lifetime inspires you to keep learning and transforming. You might choose a role model who has evolved artistically at every stage of their life, or you could choose someone who has adapted to challenges over time. This role model should inspire you to continue to develop and cultivate a renewed sense of identity throughout your lifetime.
David Bowie and Sting are both evolution and longevity role models for me, based on their artistic exploration throughout their careers and the shifts in their creative output at different stages of their lives. Bowie famously reinvented his stage persona numerous times throughout his career, thematically coinciding with his album releases. Sting’s songwriting and musical style has evolved from his time as frontman of the Police and throughout his solo career.
Both of these artists have grown through exploration and innovation at every stage of their careers, refusing to become stagnant or comfortable with one style or approach to their work. While I’m just starting out in my professional life, both David Bowie and Sting remind me not to be afraid of changing direction, reinventing myself, or trying something entirely new. They also inspire me to seek out inspiration from disparate sources and explore different genres and art forms to expand my perspective.
5. Your Meaning Role Model
This role model can serve as a broad guide for how you approach life’s biggest philosophical questions of meaning and purpose, and their tangible manifestations within your own daily life. Meaning role models could include spiritual or religious leaders you respect, individuals who have directly mentored or advised you, writers or artists who have informed your outlook on life, or individuals in your life you consider to be wise.
During my undergrad degree, I wrote my senior thesis on the philosophy and theology of Søren Kierkegaard. His work established the foundation for existential philosophy, and his philosophical viewpoints are all rooted in the tangible realities of individuals’ lives. One of the most powerful aspects of his work, for me, involves his concentration on the individual—as opposed to the general public or the crowd. This focus on individual self-identity, and the necessity of individuals accepting responsibility for their lives and relationships with others informs how I think about my life choices and how I approach my work. Kierkegaard’s narrative approach to conveying his philosophical perspectives and the applied nature of his thinking also guides how I discuss overarching philosophical ideas and apply them to my life.
By choosing these five types of role models for your own life, you can provide yourself with greater continuity in who you look to for guidance and inspiration, even as your interests and roles change and evolve. Thinking about role models in this way has helped me to reframe how I think about the individuals I view as sources of inspiration, and it has enabled me to talk to my students about role models and artists they admire in a more holistic way.
Do you already have any of these role models in your life? How do those individuals inform your professional and creative decisions?