John Amaechi reflects on the importance of being a mentor and role model, and how most of the time this is a choice made for us by those who, unbeknownst to us, hold us in high esteem.
Sometimes there are moments of revelation in reflection on activities you’ve done so many times they evade scrutiny at first pass.
I have spent my life trying to role model for kids. Even as a college student, I became part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring organisation and in short order, found myself with a gaggle of young people in my care.
In every period of my life I have enjoyed and written about the mutual benefit and the personal joy of mentoring — whether this be with colleagues in business or young people in sport.
And yet somehow, the true power and magnitude of having someone who cares to look up to sometimes escapes me.
I argue endlessly that mentoring has a profound impact on the mentee and the mentor. Being a conscientious, if imperfect, role model can have far reaching positive implications, not just for the opportunities and perspectives of the mentee, but on the enduring and sustainable success of the role model themselves.
Fundamentally, I find that many people fail to understand their position as role models. They are willing to abdicate their responsibility as role models and readily allow the same for their favourite sports, business and political heroes because they, like me, become blind to the individual impact on those who look for inspiration.
Even those of us who try to practice what we preach, often fail to see those stolen glances of awe that explain with an eloquence that often fails us after the moment, why positive role-modelling is so important.
Luckily in this digital age, those glances sometimes get caught on camera.
After a recent visit to Lithuania in my capacity as an NBA Ambassador, I wrote a post about the amazing warm reception and rewarding experience I had meeting the young people in the Jr. NBA programme. It was only when browsing some of the pictures that I saw an image that I wanted to share here. It’s that look on a face that I feel compelled to imprint into the memories of all those who doubt the power of mentorship and role-modelling.
I am convinced that this look: part admiration, even adoration as well as a sense of transferred resilience through a hopeful connection is conveyed tangibly in the face of a child in the picture I viewed. A look inspired by an average, former NBA player in a child from a village of 4,000 people in rural Lithuania who doesn’t speak English and wasn’t even born during my years playing in the NBA.
Maybe it’s hubris on my part, but I’d encourage you to look at his face — at those faces of children removed by language, geography and generation — and then look to the faces of those you work with, educate and coach to see if that look is clearer to you there.
Being a role model is a choice made for us by others. Our own choice is whether or not we embrace this role, and choose to act as a Jedi, or Sith.