We all look up to someone. Professionally or personally, it doesn’t matter. There is someone who has achieved what you want, and you can learn from them.
This seems obvious and simple to most people, but most people get it wrong. They pick bad role models, or they emulate the wrong aspects of their role model’s life.
Finding a role model and using their story to map out your career doesn’t have to be hard. Below I’ve mapped out the most important steps to doing it successfully.
How To Pick The Right Role Model
Before you look for a role model, look at yourself. You need to understand what you want and who you are before you can decide who to model your career after. Ask yourself this, what would a good day look like to you 20 years from now?
Get a blank piece of paper and start writing, capturing your goals and the characteristics of a good day, defined on your terms.
There is something kinetically stimulating connective about putting thought to paper, allowing you to dig deep and let your thoughts flow. Although many find it difficult to start writing, once you get going, you will find that ideas surface from deep within. You might be surprised by what comes out – embrace it.
It’s okay if your motivations, goals, desires, or dreams do not come out linearly; as human beings, we are not wired to think in a straight line anyway. Get it out, and write it down.
Your motivations might include a certain level of income, and that’s okay, as long as you know what that money will buy—grad school, family support, financial independence, etc.
You might desire above all else to travel the world. Or maybe you want to help non-profit organizations or social initiatives. No wrong answers here, just guideposts for your career.
Once you know what you want, you can begin searching for a leader who started in the same place as you, and achieved everything you want.
Don’t Be Afraid To Look Beyond Your Company
A big mistake young people make is they become enamored with leaders at their own company, and default to picking them as their role models. You might work for your ideal role model (if that’s the case you’re very lucky), but don’t be afraid to look beyond your team.
Seek out leaders from any industry that resonate with you. Search for leaders not only based on what they are doing today, but their back story, their journey.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to focus only on executives, as you can learn a lot from people just a little more senior than you. After all, they are most accessible, and provide the clearest line of sight to the next career levels.
Ask These 3 Questions About Your Role Model
Once you’ve found a leader who comes from the same place as you and has achieved what you want, ask the following questions:
- Where did they study, what did they study, and did they get an advanced degree?
- What was their career progression, and how did they navigate within/between companies?
- Who did they build relationships with in achieving their goals?
While detailed information may not be public, you can learn a lot from personal conversations. Plus, do not underestimate the sheer number of anecdotes and professional histories that executives share in conferences and in articles.
Alternatively, you can just reach out to them.
Especially if you’re young and in school, you’d be surprised how many executives are willing to talk to you. The key is to show them some kind of initiative, give them an inkling that you might be worth knowing some day.
For example, I joined a consulting club at my university. I consistently used my membership as an excuse to reach out to consultants I admired under the guise of interviewing them for a project.
Many of them gave me an hour of their time just because I showed initiative, which gave me invaluable information going forward, and got my foot in the door with the people I looked up to.
All I had to do was ask.