When I was a kid, one of my role models said in a brilliant and now infamous Nike ad, “I am not a role model.” And the world lost their collective minds. How dare he?
The rest of the diatribe went “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I can dunk a basketball, doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Powerful. And I agreed. As much as Sir Charles was my man and I wanted to be like Mike, my primary role models lived under my roof, and made sure I was fed, clothed and got my ass out of bed and to school every morning.
The edge of that ad resonated with me. But personally, when it came to my own life perspective, I couldn’t relate. I embraced that pressure. I welcomed that status. I wanted to live a certain way and do certain things that set the bar for others. Reasonable or not, I wanted to be a role model. And I did my best to conduct myself as such.
As an only child, part of me might have felt cheated by missing out on the sibling dynamic. This may be why I always yearned to be a father. But that void was filled in my life, by my ability to provide mentorship to those my junior. Younger dudes always gravitated toward me. And with that came great responsibility. I wanted to be worthy of emulation. I sought to be a positive influence that helped lead people down the right path. I never abandoned that natural inclination, and over time it forged me into a leader. It is an impulse that informs my fatherhood to this day. Can I embody all that my daughters should ever come to expect from a man? That profound challenge holds me accountable daily.
I had the walls of Nike posters with Bo, Deion and Penny. The Champion jerseys with Webber, Stephon and AI on the back. But I was never trying to be them. I was chasing a different ideal. All I ever wanted to be, was the best version of myself that was possible. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I was arrogant and audacious enough to believe that could be something worthy of an impressionable kid’s poster.
As I grew and learned about life in the real world, my ambition endured, but I became more pragmatic. I came to understand that there would be no meteoric rise. My ascent would be gradual, often imperceptible… Against the resistance of responsible adulthood. And if nothing else, if I never got to see the mountaintop in the clouds, I’d know that I never stopped climbing, scratching and clawing, an inch at a time.
That’s why, at a certain point, it started to seem so ridiculous to me that I’d be cutting workouts short or rushing through important tasks that were investments in my aspirations, in the name of watching a game or catching a show. The cold truth is that we find ourselves putting aside the work necessary to be who we want to be, to be bystanders cheering from the sideline for those already in the arena… A sad fate for any man who aspires to greatness. Remember: all the idols you genuflect before and whose family names you wear proudly emblazoned across your back are dudes, just like you. And they don’t give a fuck about your dream. Probably because they’re too busy going for theirs.
A mantra of mine in my thirties has been “kill your idols”. Take motivation wherever you can find it and use it to fuel your process. Admire those worthy of respect and esteem and let them inspire you. But there comes a time in every man’s life when he must become his own hero. The only role model you need is the one that lives inside you.
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