Kamala Harris is an incredible role model, who shines not only for her achievements and values, but also for paving the way for new opportunities. The first woman, the first black person and the first person of Indian heritage to be elected vice president. Being a first isn’t just about changing history, it’s about changing the future.
Over the weekend, Lewis Hamilton MBE achieved his seventh Formula 1 world title, levelling himself with Michael Schumacher’s record. Hamilton is now statistically the most successful F1 driver of all time. He is also the only F1 driver who isn’t white. A role model for diversity in sport and what we can achieve if we follow our dreams, he has pledged to continue fighting for equality in and outside of sport.
The power of role models
Harris and Hamilton are just two examples in the past month that have reminded us of the importance and power of role models. The presence of diverse role models is one step closer toward equality and against all forms of discrimination.
As young people, we looked toward the opportunities available to us with a dose of practicality. Even if subconsciously, we knew what was expected of us and what other people thought we were capable of. Sometimes this isn’t just about our capabilities or our potential. It’s about the people who have been before us.
If your parents and their parents before them had been to university, for example, the expectation may have been that you would too. If no one in your family had ever gone to university, it may instead be an aspiration. Paving a new path means that your self-belief often comes from somewhere other than expectation. It often means the journey is more challenging, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
You might be a woman interested in a career in a male-dominated field. Or you might not see anyone who shares your regional accent, religion or sexuality who has achieved the goal you want to achieve. Does that mean you can’t?
Harris and Hamilton didn’t wait for people like them to tell them they could. I don’t know where they found their inspirational personal strength and resilience, but I do know it is something we can all build within ourselves. It starts by identifying your own barriers.
Identifying the barrier
This is a simple exercise, but it is best completed with time to think and relax. All you need is a way to record your thoughts.
Complete the following sentences with as many examples as come to mind:
People like me…
People like me don’t…
Now remove the words ‘like me’ from your statements.
Read your new statements aloud. Do they still make sense when you think of just ‘people’?
Consider what it is about you, or people like you, that makes you feel you have different capabilities to others. Ask yourself if your differences will prevent you from removing any barriers.
This exercise enables you to identify the difference between what you think other people can/t do and what your differences mean you can/t. With reflection, it will also enable you to separate which are based on fact and which are actually limiting beliefs (restrictions based on opinions).
One example is thinking “people like me don’t become prime minister” because “like me” includes being Asian and physically disabled. It is true that in the UK we have not seen a prime minister who is Asian and disabled, yet neither of these attributes would make a person unable to fulfill this specific role. It is therefore a limiting belief, perhaps based on a lack of diverse role models in politics.
Challenging limiting beliefs
There’s a magic word we can add every time one of those “people like me don’t…” thoughts come up. It’s (drum roll, please!)…. yet.
“People like me don’t […] yet.”
The world is full of possibilities. Creating big, exciting changes is not easy. People are naturally more fulfilled when we have a great journey to look back on – it’s how we are wired.
So if there is something that hasn’t been achieved, isn’t widely achieved or you haven’t achieved… it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be. It’s up to you if you want to go down that path. We need not be limited by the role models available to us, but let’s be aware of the gaps and celebrate the role models we do have. The last sentence is one for you to finish and ponder, as you decide what’s next:
“People like me…”