Two interesting things happened a few years ago that helped me understand that there is a big difference between having a mentor and a role model. The first was when an instructor commented to a friend that I was her mentor. It was interesting because, at that time, I hadn’t had much personal interaction with her, and I couldn’t take credit for her success as she had achieved it on her own. The second situation occurred when someone mentioned that I was their role model, prompting me to ask myself, “What qualifies someone to be a role model?”
Mentors vs. Role Models
Mentors and role models are crucial in professional and personal life, and it’s possible to have more than one, catering to different aspects of life. However, there is a distinction.
Defining a Role Model
According to an online dictionary, a role model is:
“A person who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviors 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.”
People like Lisa Champion, Oprah Winfrey, and Mary O’Dwyer are my role models—women I respect and value for their contributions to the world. I admire these individuals, and given any chance, I would spend more time with them. Role models are those you observe and consider how you could do things differently to enhance your life.
Understanding the Mentor’s Role
Mentors, on the other hand, are different. According to the dictionary:
“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, providing specific advice for your growth in a particular area of expertise. They may also offer wisdom on life’s challenges and effective ways to overcome them. Mentors can be teachers, parents, or peers. Having a mentor is one of the most important aspects of my personal growth—being one and having one. Being a mentor teaches you a lot about yourself and ensures you walk your talk. It has undoubtedly made me a better instructor and presenter. However, I am cautious not to give advice in areas where I am not an expert, such as child rearing, nutrition, or relationships. My mentors offer qualified advice, and I listen to them because they have more experience and expertise in certain topics and in life in general. They see the big picture, not just the small details. While their lives aren’t perfect, their ability to grow, learn, and share their lessons enriches my experience and helps me navigate potential pitfalls.
The Ebb and Flow of Influences
Role models and mentors may come and go depending on the stages of life and personal growth. Some may stay with you for a lifetime, truly impacting your life.