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Posts tagged ‘environment’

Thinking About Role Models

role_modelToday I’m thinking about role models. Role models on the international stage, alive today, who are exemplars for ourselves and for our children. As we grapple with continually breaking stories about A-list sexual impropriety, sexual assault, questionable business dealings, and most every kind of NO YOU DIDN’T, it’s increasingly difficult to settle on well-known paragons of the behavior that we want to emulate and want to hold up as examples to our children.

What is a role model? In its deepest expression, a role model is a person whose behavior you want to emulate. Who embodies and exemplifies your personal values, interests, and beliefs. While on the one hand we understand intellectually that we all, as humans, make mistakes, we want our role models to be beyond reproach. We don’t want to have to say, “Well, this person is amazing and upright in 90% of his or her actions and speech, so I’ll ignore that pesky 10% of not-so-great choices.” We don’t want our most beloved icons to have feet of clay.

When I sat down to write a list of my personal role models — alive, well-known, and scandal-free — I had an extremely difficult time of it. I managed to come up with 30 names, but it wasn’t easy.

I share my personal list with you not because I want to create partisanship (my list is rather left-leaning), but because I want to contribute to an honest conversation about what we hold as important on a societal level; what we want to espouse as our legacy. With your help, I’d like to triple my list, which is notably low on artists (partly because many artists are not visible personalities).

The 30 people on my list are, to my knowledge, people of character. They are leaders. I may not agree with everything these people do and stand for, but I believe that their choices are guided by something I respect. I believe that these people want to make a significant and positive impact on the world — and that they share of themselves and their talents at least in part from altruism. My selections are people who are generally esteemed as “nice people.” I get warm fuzzies thinking about them.

My list, segmented by cisgender (for no good reason) and otherwise in random order:


  1. Michelle Obama
  2. Brené Brown
  3. JK Rowling
  4. Helen Mirren
  5. Maggie Smith
  6. Judy Dench
  7. Oprah Winfrey
  8. Rachel Maddow
  9. Martha Plimpton
  10. Ellen Degeneres
  11. Malala Yousafzai
  12. Judy Blume
  13. Viola Davis
  14. Pema Chödrön
  15. Emma Watson
  16. Toni Morrison
  17. Byron Katie


  1. His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Pope Francis
  4. Justin Trudeau
  5. John McCain
  6. Neil Gaiman
  7. Steven King
  8. Nicholas Kristoff
  9. Trevor Noah
  10. Steven Colbert
  11. Gabor Maté
  12. Thich Nhat Hanh
  13. Gary Zukav

And you? Who are the role models, alive today and free of scandal, that inspire you and serve as guides along the pathway of self-betterment? Please add your thoughts in the comments. Let’s grow this list!


Is Your Environment Helping or Hurting You Creatively?

creative thoughtYour environment — whether it’s your office, studio, or family room — is full of cues that can have a significant impact on how you feel, what you think, and how you behave. As Malcolm Gladwell details in his bestseller Blink, our brains constantly decode information and influence our thoughts and actions in ways that may or may not support our goals. Is your environment continually sending you messages that undermine your creative process or self-confidence?

Gladwell cites a now-classic 1996 priming experiment wherein New York University researchers asked participants to rearrange scrambled words to form sentences. The control group received random sentences and the experimental group received sentences containing words we associate with the elderly, such as “Florida,” “old,” “forgetful,” “wrinkle,” and “bingo.” If you were among the experimental group, after finishing the test you would have walked down the hallway more slowly than the control group.

This experiment was just one of many that reveal our brains’ susceptibility to the subtle (but not subliminal) signals we receive. The unconscious mind guides us in ways we can’t control. It is for this reason that classical music has adopted the practice of blind auditions, using a screen to separate auditioners from the audition committee. It is simply too difficult to ignore information from visual cues — information that can support incorrect conclusions, such as the formerly widespread belief that women are inferior musicians. As Gladwell notes, in the three decades since the use of audition screens became commonplace, the number of women in top US orchestras has increased five-fold.

What does this mean for you, as a creative? It means that you need to ensure that what you see every day is empowering and inspiring. Take a hard look at what you’ve surrounded yourself with — and get rid of the things that don’t serve you. Be ruthless. Then invite in only the objects and cues that support your intentions, increase your productivity, and make you feel good. A few simple starters:

  • Clean up your desk: Piles of clutter may perpetuate feeling overwhelmed and disorganized.
  • Go green: Having a plant nearby can improve attentiveness, productivity, and well-being.
  • Use creative visualization: Make a vision board and hang it where you can see it daily.
  • Stick ’em up: Write your goals on Post-It notes and hang them in obvious places.

In the words of Napoleon Hill: “We begin to see, therefore, the importance of selecting our environment with the greatest of care, because environment is the mental feeding ground out of which the food that goes into our minds is extracted.”

What kinds of things do you keep in your environment that support your creativity?


A version of this piece was originally published in Creativity Calling, the newsletter of the Creativity Coaching Association.

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