On Heros, Idols, And Role Models

by tffitness on October 30, 2015

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The Declaration Of Independence states that all men were created equal, but as Tai Lopez once joked, “It doesn’t go down like that.”

In truth, there are those among us who, for whatever reasons, accomplish more — much more in some cases — than the rest of us lesser mortals.

Maybe they were born with innate gifts, grew up in better circumstances, and/or, maybe they just worked harder than the rest of us.

(Speaking of work ethic, in a recent interview, mega entrepreneur and futurist Elon Musk was asked how he manages to work an average of 100 hours a week. Acting somewhat surprised at the question, Musk (who is CEO/CTO of Space X, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, and Chairman of Solar City) replied “Well, if you really think about it, I’m kind of a slacker — after all, each of my 3 companies only gets me for 30 hours a week.”)

There are two take-home points I’d like to make in this post about great people, and how you can best learn from their deeds:

1  Even the greatest among us make mistakes — they don’t do everything right by any means.

2  In many cases, the greats don’t always know exactly why they’re great.

Let’s flesh these points out in a bit more detail…

Despite what many people think, our success in life is the sum of the beneficial things we do, minus the less beneficial things we do. Even the least successful do some things right, and the greatest among us also do some things wrong.

This is an important point, because if you simply mimic what a great person does, you’ll be mimicking their unproductive habits right along with their productive ones. Is Serena Williams really so great because (as she has said) she is a Vegan, or is it because she has innate talents along with an insatiable work-ethic? Is Rich Froning a great athlete because he does Crossfit, or is the reverse closer to the truth? Is Ronda Rousey the greatest female MMA athlete who ever lived because of her talent and drive, or is it more accurate to say that she’s managed to dominate a fledgling sport that hasn’t yet attracted the best athletes out there?

I’m not taking any particular position on the 3 examples I just gave, but rather, I offer them to stimulate your own critical thinking. Rather than just assuming that your heros do everything right, or before you take them at their word as to why they’re so great, a better approach might be to “reverse-engineer” their success by looking at their behaviors dispassionately. In the same way that atheists should intimately know the best arguments against their positions, you can perhaps best decipher the “OS” of your favorite athlete by first discovering what he or she might be doing wrong.

For example, a great entrepreneur who has a herculean drive and who also claims to sleep only 4 hours per night isn’t successful because he doesn’t sleep much, but rather, in spite of it. In truth, it’s much more likely that he’s successful because of his great work ethic, and his miserly sleep patterns are simply an unfortunate side-effect of that positive trait. To be more like this hero, seek to emulate his work ethic, not his sleep habits.

As a parting thought, get out of the habit of taking a great person’s word for why they’re so successful. So for example, if a great squatter claims that his success is due to squatting 7 days a week, even on days where he’s working through pain, don’t just accept than explanation, but rather look at the entirety of his habits and behaviors.

As an exercise in critical thinking, whenever you’re thinking about a particular role model of yours, attempt to identify a few of that person’s unproductive behaviors. When you find them, you can still admire this hero for his or her overall greatness, and what’s more, the realization that he’s “only human” can make his achievements even more accessible to you. Your heros have done great things that you should be inspired by and try to emulate. But they also have flaws, which you should attempt to avoid.

Finally, rather than emulate successful people, it’s perhaps better to adopt those people’s best practices. In other words, as the late Bruce Lee was fond of saying, “Adopt what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.”

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Olivier

Great post. I have been thinking a lot about this topic recently as well.

We tend to emulate what we think our heroes and idols do. And as is so often the case, the things they are doing once they are successful isn’t necessarily what they were doing to get to become successful.

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