WANTED: vulnerable role models

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Robyn, Melinda Gates & Margot Wallström.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about role models.

I’ve never experienced passionate admiration towards one specific person. I get anxious from the question “If you could choose anyone in the world, who would you like to have dinner with?“. I think there are too many great people on this planet I could learn from.

My role models are rather those who are close to me in everyday life: my colleagues, friends and family, random acquaintances. I look up to almost everyone I know in something, whether it’s how they treat other people, talk about their spouses, love themselves, make decisions or manage their time. I constantly try to steal some of the “good stuff” that I appreciate in them.

Last week I was listening to three female role models – Robyn, Melinda Gates and Margot Wallström – at a panel discussion about women empowerment. Setting the gender roles aside for a while, the discussion helped me to crystallize my thoughts about the kind of people I admire and would like to see more of.

As Robyn said it, being a role model is about being yourself. It is not some I-need-to-be-seen-as ideal, title or role you try to live up to, but about being your true self. Being authentic and unique. Now this is tricky, since many of you might get offended here: “What do you mean by being yourself? I am always 100% myself!“. I doubt that.

If you practice self-awareness and dig deeper than the everyday ‘you’ that functions on an autopilot, you’ll encounter that there is so much more to it. Our society just lays such expectations on us that one easily gets used to suppressing the parts that are generally interpreted as less desirable. Hence, by being yourself I mean accepting and expressing the whole wide range of human emotions from shame and fear to love and joy – daring to show vulnerability.

If it still sounds easy, just think about it. Think how often you dare to get in touch with your authentic feelings in contexts like work. When was the last time you shared your biggest fears or dreams with your colleagues? Do you put on a “professional me” mask in a job interview, or worse – every day at work? Have you ever cried or laughed a full rolling-on-the-floor laugh in public and if so, did you feel ashamed afterwards?

In other words, being a role model is about wholeness. Margot Wallström referred to wholeness by saying that a person can’t be whole unless they experience love. Love in a sense that you are allowed and encouraged to be yourself with all the quirks, moods and interests that you have. This is where organizations often fail. They fail at creating truly inclusive cultures where masculine and feminine forces are in balance, and where employees can feel safe enough to bring their whole selves to work.

When Robyn, Melinda and Margot were asked what was the single biggest influencer on their paths of becoming role models, two out of three answered sensitive dads. Sensitive dads who encouraged them to be themselves and explore their competences within whichever area they felt the calling for. The way I see it, sensitive male role models are crucial not only for women to feel empowered and more included, but also for so many men out there who feel they are expected to fit into the box of mostly masculine treats.

The good thing with role models is that they inspire others to become a little bit more like them. I wish to see more role models who dare to be sensitive and true to themselves. That is also why I will do everything in my power to make others feel safe around me – so that they don’t feel the need of wearing any masks.

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