Dear role model,
When I called you today, after the usual hellos, you asked me: “Are you calling for more approval?”
You were joking. I know for a fact that it came from a place of love. But it rocked me inside because it spoke directly to an uncomfortable truth: I have called for exactly that reason in the past.
A long time ago, I put you on a pedestal.
But not all that long ago, I decided to bring you gently back down. For both our sakes and for the sake of our friendship.
I only noticed this pattern recently, but it’s been going on for decades. Not just with you, but with many others, across many areas of my life.
I’ve called it the Pedestal Effect.
Sometimes the Pedestal Effect centred around older or more experienced or more knowledgable people who’ve helped me through particularly difficult periods – crushing disappointment of non-selection in water polo teams, despair for getting out of a playing or a working rut, dealing with intense growing pains in a business, owing the tax office and wondering where that cash would come from, navigating sorrow, firing up a new business model.
Other times it’s centred around more. More money, better car, bigger house, larger business, more senior role in a bigger name organisation, more muscles, more books, more medals, more Olympics, more meditating, more expertise, more profile.
If people had these, I hoisted them up.
In some instances I found my gratitude distorted to subservience or approval seeking. In others, I found my desire for feedback distorted to wanting you to make the decision for me, to take on the responsibility or to provide feedback outside your core expertise or experience.
It was, and still is, ok for me to seek that sometimes. But the problem, if these patterns endured, is that I undervalued my own contribution or input. And nor did you benefit from my impossible expectations – a bar set so high that you’d never reach it.
At best, it was fine. We bumbled around it. You did a great job of pushing it aside or helping me see the truth below the surface.
At worst, it prevented the very connection we needed.
The problem with me putting you on a pedestal is that it got in the way of us being real with each other.
It set up strange power dynamics, unrealistic expectations, approval seeking rather than feedback seeking behaviour, a lack of vulnerability, a lack of accountability. Sometimes it’s just that the conversations felt clunky and forced, punctured by awkward silences. Some people who were role models from afar – through books or podcasts or media – just overawed me when we finally had the chance to meet.
I’ve apologised to a few people over the last little while for putting them on a pedestal. The responses tell me that most of it was in my mind. But I think it still got in the way at times and was a disservice to us both.
So I’ve brought you down from there, acknowledged your incredible strengths and recognised that you too have your battles.
The purpose hasn’t been to reduce you, but to see you as whole.
It has been a relief for me. I imagine it might be a relief for you too.
What I’ve learned.
Simply recognising the pattern through reflection has been really powerful. I better understand the contexts in which the Pedestal Effect arises for me. It helps me to prevent it happening or minimise its impact if it does.
Practicing coaching and facilitation have also helped. I’ve realised that behind the incredible trophy cabinets of accomplishment, sits a shared human experience of:
- Imposter syndrome
- And many others.
No one escapes these. We simply learn to accept them as part of life or, as buddhism teaches, we can learn to “invite these emotions to tea”. I’ve done this mainly through trial and error. But I’m excited to see modern science validating millennia old traditions of acceptance as a powerful tool for well being and performance.
It’s a tool that’s teachable and can be accelerated with practice.
So thank you role models. For your support, your time, your knowledge, your input and for sharing the journey with me. Most importantly, thank you for your friendship.
When next I call, know that it’s not to seek approval but to connect. While I’ll always celebrate your achievements and super powers, I also want to know what’s really going on for you, how you’re navigating the tough times and what is truly important to you.
I admire you immensely and even more so now I can see all of who you are.