Recently, an employee asked me who I look up to. She mentioned people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and everybody from Oprah to Jack Ma came up as examples of successful people who could be potential sources of inspiration. In response, I simply said, “I don’t look up to any of them.”
Now, I respect what these people have accomplished. They’ve done some really amazing things, achieved success, and made billions in the process — but I don’t look up to them. This led my employee to ask me why, and I answered, “I don’t know them well.”
True Success Is in the Details
Too often, we put people on pedestals without knowing the details of who they are and what they’ve done. For example, in the past, I looked up to Steve Jobs because I believed he was so successful.
Since then, I’ve read about the new book “Small Fry,” written by Jobs’ daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, in which she gives examples of things he did in his life and how she’s forgiven him for them. As I read more about how he truly was, I realize we’re very different people. Just because someone is successful by traditional standards doesn’t necessarily mean he or she should be a role model.
When it comes to looking up to people, I try to think about what the benefit of looking up to someone actually is. To me, it’s clear that the reason you look up to a person is so that he or she can inspire you to become the best version of yourself.
So when I think about the people who do that for me, it’s not Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. I don’t know how Musk is with the people he works with or how he treats his family and friends. He could be great or not — I don’t know the truth. And that’s because I don’t actually know him.
Your Idols Are People You Know
When you really know someone who’s achieved success and who you can admire in all the ways that are most important to you, that’s when you’ve found someone to look up to who can make a big difference in your life.
I look at my friends, co-workers, and business partners, and I do know the truth. When I come across employees of fellow Inc. columnist, friend, and former client Robert Glazer, I can see in their eyes how they respect the way Bobby treats them. When I have coffee with the co-founder of Veterans United Home Loans, Brant Bukowsky, his humility is authentic, and when I run into his friends, they talk about how inspirational it is that his success hasn’t negatively affected his kind personality.
As I reflect on the last seven years of building a fast-growing company, the people who have truly challenged me and made me a better version of myself are not the people I hero-worshipped. They were the people around me, those I knew well, those who displayed attributes I wanted to cultivate in myself.
My co-founder, Kelsey Raymond, has been an amazing influence on me. She’s no billionaire, but she’s someone I know extremely well — someone who thinks differently and who has challenged my weaknesses in ways that have helped me almost turn them into strengths. If that’s not someone I should look up to, then I guess I’m missing the meaning of the concept altogether.
Hopefully, this article will help you take a step back and spend more time looking up to people who can make the biggest difference in your life. I believe you are the average of the five to 10 people you spend most of your time with, so keep this in mind when you’re making an effort to learn from others.