Models and Mentors

My Dad died 8 years ago today. If I sit and think about the happy times and the sad, it doesn’t take long for tears to sting my eyes, but whereas once that happened several times an hour, with time that emotion has sunk deeper inside. Grief passes, loss never does. 

Who were your role-models when you were growing up?                                                                                                            

Dad shaped who I am and how I see the world. Through many years of profiling I’ve heard the impact that every parent has on a life, from childhood through to midlife and beyond. Every single one of us has been shaped by someone in our formative years be it positively or negatively. We, our brains and our identity are moulded by our experiences of the world and most of all that happens as a direct consequence of our interaction with our core caregivers. In the vast majority of instances, it’s our parents who has been the main role-models in our lives. Research tells the same story. 

Who are your mentors? 

As we grow up that learning doesn’t stop although of course the source does change. As adults we may feel embarrassed to say someone impacted us as a role-model or even a mentor, yet we are still learning from the people around us, all of the time. Some estimates go as far as saying that 90% of our learning is through social means. That presents a massive opportunity if used effectively. 

Think about it, how did you learn to do your job or find your way around the services in the town you live in – was it from reading a text book, doing a course or through watching, interacting, listening and doing? Learning this way doesn’t always feel intuitive, despite being one of the most natural things in the world. Why? Because we’re brought up to believe that studying and qualifications matter most. When I first joined the firm of psychologists I worked with straight out of my Masters – YSC, I was raring to go. I wanted to get stuck in, to profile, to pull out insights that would help pin-point what made people tick. But I was told I couldn’t straight in, I had to sit in on profile after profile, making judgements, discussing them, being corrected and encouraged. The intangible of this felt infuriating. But, in reality it is how we learn most effectively, how we learn the nuances that can’t be taught from a book or course, especially those that involve our social and emotional worlds. We learn from and about other people through observing, listening and interacting with them. We are after all such social beings. This type of learning is the core way we know how to navigate our world – how to avoid failure and move toward success and how to have better relationships with those around us. When we observe others’ choices, whether the outcome is good or bad, we have extra information on what the best choice for us to make ourselves. Aside from anything else when it’s someone else’s experience it helps us mitigate our own failure and pain. 

Your Models and Mentors

So, whether your aim is to learn how to be a brilliant leaders, be a good parent or train for a 10km race, you’re most likely to learn effectively if you have a mentor or an ‘unexpected’ role-model to guide you. Not a hero or heroine but someone you can see and talk to, or simply observe. They don’t have to be perfect, in fact you’ll learn more from them if they are not. Think about who your role-models and mentors are now, today- who can you learn from? Write them down, reflect on what you want to learn from them, the questions you want to ask, what you need to watch. 

And also keep making use of the wisdoms you learnt growing up, reflect back on what they taught you and keep referring to their stories like a guiding light. And remember that just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean there isn’t learning left to do. If you leave who is shaping you to chance, because people are nudging your behaviour and beliefs all of the time, you’re doing yourself a disservice.   

I’m lucky I still have my Mum to check in with and guide me, which I do, daily under the guise of checking in on her, she offers me the comfort that only a Mum can. But although Dad is gone, conjuring up his positivity, wisdom and view of the world feels like a warm hug and still helps, if I let it, to shape the path I take through life. I miss you Dad. 


Bandura, A. 1977. Social Learning Theory. New York, NY: General Learning Press.

Murden, F. 2020. Mirror Thinking – How Role Models Make Us Human. Bloomsbury Sigma.

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