One common exercise I often prescribe for creative business owners is to name your role models (here’s a link to the most recent article I wrote on the topic). Personally, I try to identify role models in both my personal and professional life.
Observing other people who have achieved something similar to what you want to create helps inspire and motivate your work. It lets you see “how the professionals do it,” and this is extremely important in a creative business where you’re forced to be your own boss. A strong role model that you can admire from afar will teach you leadership tactics and offer you some direction in your goals.
But sometimes as you progress, and especially if your industry is small and niche, your path will cross with your role model’s. What happens then?
Should you try to meet your role model?
I used to be a huge Bethenny Frankel fan, and one of her zingers still lives with me. She said something along the lines of, “Never meet your role models … you’ll always end up disappointed.” It was years ago (probably during her RHoNY days), and she was referring to Martha Stewart, whom she had met when she was cast for a season of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart edition.
What do you think of that statement? Does it feel true or false to you?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reconsidered that quote since the first time I heard it. I’ve had the pleasure (or perhaps I should say, the reality) of meeting several of my role models in the last few years. If I’m honest, it’s been disappointing! However, my disappointment is certainly not the role model’s fault.
The problem lies with the unrealistic expectations I put on “celebrity-like” figures – regardless of whether they are actual celebrities or not. I often think those people want the attention that the spotlight brings, but most often they don’t. I might think connecting and knowing those role models will somehow change my circumstances, but it doesn’t.
Now I’m all, “meh.”
The great thing about meeting several of my role models is that it’s dissolved that aura of awe I put around certain people (except Oprah. I’ve met people who have met Oprah, and they say that her aura is a force not to be reckoned with :)). For the most part, I’ve stopped putting people on pedestals, and I think that’s the best thing that’s come from my in-person meetings.
Though I know the people I admire won’t always be exactly as I expected, I won’t stop trying to meet them. In fact, I think the disappointments I’ve had have made me more comfortable in approaching them. They’ve become regular people, and I’ve come to realize that I probably won’t love every aspect of their personality. I also know that they’ll probably never love me as much as I love them. That makes me love them with a little less infatuation. My experience has tempered my own admiration, and it helps me get straight to business. I come to the meeting with intention …
Ask beforehand: What can I learn from you?
Prepare for a golden opportunity in advance. In other words, before you meet your role models, know exactly how they can help you. I’ve ended up deflated after one-on-one time with too many role models because I simply did not have a plan to use the moment and collect their wisdom! I was too busy giggling, blushing, or crying. For example, when I bumped into one of my favorite authors, Dr. Wayne Dyer, I broke down into some silly tears. What’s he got to work with if I’m a bubbling fountain of emotion? There have been times when I wasn’t prepared for my role model’s attention, and I wasted my chance!
Here’s what to do with your role model, should you meet them:
- Do your research. If you have a question or a comment, make sure it’s not one they’ve already answered a million times. Make sure you are approaching them in an appropriate manner, time, and place, and use common sense! Remember that since they’re a public persona, you may feel you know them very well, but you’re still a complete stranger in their eyes.
- What is it you hope to gain from the meeting? This question helps bring you back down to Earth and consider what will be realistic for the situation. Do you want to stand out from their other admirers? Did you want to work with this person? Do you dream of forming a friendship? Does what you desire make sense for the meeting? For example, if you attend an author’s book signing, chances are you won’t become instant friends that day, but it is an opportunity to make a connection. A great goal for a quick encounter is to make a winning impression and leave your role model with a good reason to think of you again.
- Be prepared to give back. Remember that your role model gets a lot of requests like yours, and many people lack social etiquette. As a blogger, even I get requests that simply demand my time and energy without offering anything in return! Your role models are going to be immediately put off by people who are “all take,” so stand out from the crowd by having something to offer in return.
- Have a plan to follow-up. Say, “I’d love to hear your thoughts/know how you feel/see what you think about [something you think you have in common with your role model]. I’ll reach out to you on Twitter in a few days, and if you have a spare moment, maybe we could connect/have a quick chat/exchange emails.”
- If your connection pans out, don’t be intimidated! In business, I have long admired Corbett Barr who authors the popular blog, Think Traffic. When I had the opportunity to work with him (he contributed a class to my business-building course), I was just so happy he was going to be there! I handed out detailed instructions to every other contributor telling them exactly what to do, but I shied away from Corbett and left things vague. In effect, I made it much harder for him to help me. It was only after I finally sent him the instructions I’d given everyone else that he was able to understand exactly what I needed for the first time. If I would have given instructions more directly from the get-go, I could have created a more pleasant working experience for us both.
- Don’t get in your own way. By that I mean, if you do start having interactions with some of your role models, don’t take things personally or presume too much about them. They’re busy, and you’re one of many new connections they’re forming at any given time. Stay cool and be patient with the budding relationship. Familiarity breeds affection, so aim to be considerately familiar.
Here’s what meeting so many of my role models has taught me: stop making role models out of people. Learn from them and aim to work with them, but don’t idolize anyone. So, go meet your role models! Let them disappoint you so you’ll learn that nobody can live up to that level of expectations (except Oprah :))! Until next time~