Two interesting things happened recently that have helped me understand that there is a big difference between having a mentor and a role model. The first one was when an instructor had commented to a friend of mine that I had been her mentor. It was an interesting comment, as I had never had much to do with her personally and could certainly not take any credit for her success. She had really done that on her own. The second situation was when someone mentioned that I was their role model, and I started to ask myself… what qualifies someone to be a role model?
I think that they are both important to have in your professional and personal life and you can certainly have more than one of each, as you may have different mentors and role models for different aspects of your life. But, there is a difference!
According to an online dictionary a role model is:
‘A person who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviours associated with a role. For example, a father is a role model for his sons. Role models can also be persons who distinguish themselves in such a way that others admire and want to emulate them.’
The way I understand this is, people like Lisa Champion, Oprah Winfrey and Mary O’Dwyer are my personal role models. They are women whom I respect and value their input into the world. They are people whom I admire and given any chance, will spend more time with them (not that I have had that opportunity with Oprah, but…well just putting it out there!) Role models are people that you observe and then consider what you could do differently, that would enhance your life.
Mentors are different and the dictionary definition is:
‘a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school’
A mentor is someone who has invested time and effort in helping you along the way. Given specific advice in terms of your growth in an area of expertise. It could also be someone that has provided wisdom on life’s challenges and how to effectively overcome them. Mentors can actually be teachers, parents or peers. I see this role as being one of the most important for my own personal growth, to have one and to be one. Why be one – because you learn a lot about yourself and you find yourself walking your talk. It has certainly made me a better instructor and a better presenter. I am careful though not to give advice in areas that I am not an expert e.g. child rearing, nutrition or relationships. My mentors are people who give me qualified advice that I listen to. They are people who not only have more experience and more expertise with certain topics, but also more experience and expertise in life in general. They are people who get the ‘big picture’ and not just the small details. Their lives are not perfect, but it is in their ability to grow, learn and then be kind enough to share their lessons with me, that enriches my own experience and helps me navigate the possible pitfalls that I may encounter.
Role models and mentors will come and go depending on the stages of your life and personal growth. Some maybe with you for a life time and those are the people who will truly impact your life.