Why to find role models

Chiang Mai, Thailand.

For reasons of entertaining the visually oriented amongst you I let you know that I, big bold Dutch guy, am typing this on my bed in Chiang Mai, naked but still kinda sweaty and with lots of critter bites on my back and on my legs. The airco is not working although the maintenance man would fix it immediately. Immediately was two days ago. Fortunately is not that crazy hot the last 2 days and the fan is sufficient. Also, I have Tiger Balm, which helps against the itching of insect bites.

My secret recipe for sleeping in the rainforest and other insect infested places: mosquito repellent (to prevent bites), Tiger Balm (against itching) and ear plugs (against ultra annoying buzzing around the ears).

Now to my insight of the day. I find it quite an embarrassing one: it took me 41 years to realize that it makes sense to follow the examples of others.

Until now I made a point out of doing things differently. I was never convinced that rules and laws also applied to me, not even at a very young age. In elementary school, when the teacher addressed the class he should mention me separately because I would not feel obliged to do what ‘everybody else’ did or had to do.

When I graduated from university I was complimented on writing a thesis twice as long as the norm based on a extremely short literature list containing only 4 books. The dean considered it an example of what he called ‘my extraordinary thinking power’. But my truth was that I just wasn’t very interested in the thinking of others.

I spend a lot of time thinking and it has served me well. I like my brain. And I really used to like outsmarting others and feeling all chuffed about it. But looking back there was a pattern of liking feeling smart and avoiding feeling stupid. The only way my smartness was believable to myself was by blocking out all the information that told me otherwise. So I developed arrogance, not-listening, proving-the-other-wrong-and-ridiculing-him and stubbornness. These traits could suggest the shaping of an authentic and autonomous self but in reality it creates and an authentic and autonomous false self. I always did things ‘my way’ but I was motivated by resistance against convention and not by search for wisdom or truth. I did create an authentic personality but not a very easy one.

The psychological explanation is that growing up without a father never  taught me boundaries or lots of respect for authority or rules. Whatever the reason is, I have to deal with the pros and cons now.

In my childhood I missed an inspiring example that I could observe from close-by but I think that I am not the only one (by far). I can’t remember having real role models, people who I wanted to copy in some way (although I wanted to be as successful as my grandfather but he never really mentored me). I can remember that there were many examples that I clearly would not follow.

Deep down we all want to be free and useful. But we might not be aware of our need for being useful, I certainly wasn’t. Firstly, we want to escape from expectations, limitations and obligations. When we find that all these things primarily reside in the mind we find more inner freedom, which translates to outer freedom. Then we find that we can actually serve others and that this is enriching. We don’t have to ignore others because we don’t see them as a source of possible constraint anymore.

What I somehow didn’t really know is that we don’t have to figure out everything by ourselves. Somehow it has been my path and it has been very interesting but I feel I could have saved me a lot of time if I had had educated myself more properly.

I wonder why it was never put in my mind nor in the mind of friends. Not once did I have a lively conversation with my friends about the autobiographies we recently read. Not at 16, not at 27, not at 35. Not in high school, not in university, not after. Nobody studied life or prepared himself in any way. It just happened to us. How come we were not fascinated about the question of how to live the life we had ahead of us?

If there is something I would recommend to my younger me if I could time travel back is to study the lives of inspiring people and have the courage to follow their example. Instead of waiting for a role model to show up in life or not I would tell myself to actively search for a couple (more than one) and to learn from their failures and experiment with their teachings. There are many paths and recipes described and it is well worth it to try them on and see what works, how it works and why it works.


  1. Leonie says

    Leuk stuk weer! Je vroeg een tijdje terug ‘wie is je rolmodel’ op facebook, heb je zelf een of meerdere namen?

  2. says

    Thomas Jefferson Get into a line that you will find to be a deep personal interest, something you really enjoy spending twelve to fifteen hours a day working at, and the rest of the time thinking about.

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