Role Model

I’ve been asked by one of my managers who my role model was, which I thought was really interesting, because I’ve read a lot of self help books, biographies and listened to many podcasts, all relating to some form of improvement and guidance, but I don’t think I have a single person to point a finger to and say “This is my role model”.

There were many figures and lessons that were pivotal in shaping my life, my decision making process, and my path to forging a character, so there is no one person who is responsible for making me who I am now, and molding me into who I want to be in the future.

To take ask a more fundamental question, what virtues does this role model exhibit that you wish to imbue into your life? What attributes and characteristics does he/she have that you find not only admirable, but also required to lead a life you would be proud of? To me, one lesson largely stand out: Ownership

Ownership is a very powerful, and arguably required mindset to have whenever you embark on endeavors. To fully own the outcome, attribute it’s success and failures to yourself, and to have some form of self-permanence in the final outcome. This runs diametrically opposed to how most people engage themselves in their lives: detached and floundering. To disassociate themselves with the task at hand, and not own the work. Even if they did complete the task, the quality of the results would be obvious from one not being invested, and from the other who see this as an extension of his identity.

To own something is very different from being responsible for it, even though both are equally important. Being responsible means you are required to give a response. A response in the decisions to take, a response in the progress and a response in the outcome. But just giving a response is not sufficient to ensure the quality of the outcome. A response can be equally detached and poorly thought out. I can be responsible for a project, and still do it haphazardly, even if I gave all the required responses.

This is where ownership comes in. To own something is to add a personal and emotional investment into it. By declaring ownership over something, you amalgamate all the judgement on to the work into yourself. You and the work become one, and a critique on the work becomes a critique on your character. How others view and judge the outcome of the work, would be how people view and judge your character. By willing to have such a high stake in your work such as to put your own character on the line, that is true ownership.

To give a more digestible example, I can be responsible for a project, and ensures that it delivers on time, on budget, and it works exactly the specifications and requirements. I’m able to meet all the SLAs, the product works exactly as it should be, and I’ve checked all the boxes. Except that the user interface sucks. Except that the spaghetti code is poorly written, poorly documented and not maintainable. Except that I’m using dated libraries that are inefficient and potentially vulnerable. Except that I don’t bother about optimization. Except that I’m doing everything you told me to, nothing more, and nothing less. The two poorest kinds of people are those who don’t do what they are told, and those who do only exactly what they’re told. One lacks responsibility, one lacks ownership.

Once you start to own something, labor transforms into emotional labor. You do not because you have to, but because you want to. You strive for perfection as though it translates to a perfect character (but we have to be wary that perfect is the enemy of good enough). You remove and polish away any blemishes as though it attacks your integrity as a person. Any inputs for improvement of your work are also inputs for you as a person to grow.

Some people whom exhibit strong ownership:

  • Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan
    • You can tell I’m a basketball fan, and these two were so emotionally invested in their art
  • Satya Nadella
    • And his book Hit Refresh, and his strong emphasis on culture in the transformation of Microsoft
  • Steve Jobs
    • Omitting his more eccentric tendencies, he had strong beliefs in how things should be done

Having said that, I’m also a big fan of Stoicism, which on the contrary teaches you not to be too emotionally invested in events. I think that both these lessons, emotional investment and emotional indifference, have their own roles to play in different parts of our lives. Nietzscheism in profession, and Stoicism in personal, perhaps.

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