Find a Role Model

My recent role model: the one-of-a-kind Julia Child. Photo credit: KUHT-TV (Television station : Houston, Tex.), Julia Child, Image 1, 1953 - 2011, KUHT Highlights, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed August 6, 2015, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll38/item/262.

My recent role model: the one-of-a-kind Julia Child. Photo credit: KUHT-TV (Television station : Houston, Tex.), Julia Child, Image 1, 1953 - 2011, KUHT Highlights, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed August 6, 2015, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll38/item/262.

One of my greatest passions as a coach is helping others get past their blocks and barriers, and to begin to see all the possibilities that exist for them and their lives. Among my favorite exercises for opening up possibility is the “Role Model" exercise, introduced to me by my first life coach Jean Johnson. The basic idea is this: When you think you can’t do something, find someone who has.

Recently this exercise has been particularly relevant in my life. 

It’s been one year since I moved from my native Portland, Oregon, to a farm in Catalunya, Spain. This was a big life decision that I made  with a tremendous amount of conviction. It was a decision thoroughly aligned with my most important values and what I wanted out of life. It was about creating an amazing life with an even more amazing life partner. Plus (and there were so many pluses), I would have my dream of living on a farm. I'd live 15 minutes from the mountains. I’d have a community of warm, generous people; a relaxed, simple lifestyle; and lots of great food. The list goes on.  

Yet, I swiftly found out, all of that didn’t mean my move would be easy. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

There was a particularly dark moment last fall, frustrated from trying to work when my hands were painfully cracked open with the worst eczema I’ve ever had (thank you, stress and new climate), when four dangerous words entered my mind: “I can’t do this.”

This was bad news.

I’m grateful that I paused before going any further in this line of thinking. Instead I wondered how could I get out of this walled-up, hemmed-in corner that I found myself in. Thankfully, the wisdom of my former coach came to me: Create more possibilities.

The Role Model exercise is one of the most fun, easiest and low-pressure ways to open up possibilities. It’s excellent for when you’re feeling vulnerable.

I considered my situation: I was an American not wanting to lose her American-ness as she learned to live successfully in a different culture. I was trying to follow my passions and make a meaningful contribution through my work. I wondered who could possibly be my role model. Then, with a smile, it came to me.

Julia Child.

The wonderfully passionate and individual Julia Child. The “late-bloomer” whose obsession with French cooking – and resulting 40+ years of cookbooks and television shows – improved how Americans eat today. How I love her on The French Chef show: With her cartoon goose voice and awkward, marionette movements, demonstrating one of the world’s most refined cuisines. What a marvelous mess. Julia is such a perfect expression of someone living her passion in her own fearless and authentic way. 

Lately I’ve been devouring Julia’s memoir, My Life in France, as a continuation of my Role Model exercise. I love this exercise because it’s incredibly loose. There are no instructions other than to learn about a person and how they managed to do something that you too would like to do, and take any inspiration from where you can find it.

I feel relief, for example, when reading Julia’s description of herself on her arrival to France. “I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian,” she writes. “The sight of France in my porthole was like a giant question mark.” Suddenly my own imperfections and uncertainty no longer seem so important.

It is also reassuring to share so many similar experiences adapting to a new culture – and it’s helpful to see how Julia handled them differently (and sometimes better) than me. Julia struggled with the language barrier too, and also endured many long dinner parties frustrated by not being able to join in on conversation. After one particularly difficult dinner party several months into her time in France, Julia declared, “I’ve had it! I’m going to learn to speak this language come hell or high water!” She immediately signed up with a private tutor at Berlitz for two-hour sessions, three times a week. Holy crap, Julia, that’s dedication!

Finally, it’s a joy to follow Julia as she tells the story of her increasing obsession with French cooking. She arrives to France as an average, even mediocre, cook. She has some amazing first French meals with her husband Paul (who does know a lot about food and wine). She starts frequenting all the food shops and market stalls in her new neighborhood. She shows curiosity and openness with all the local food purveyors, despite their initial rebuffs, and they begin to befriend her. Paul gives her a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, a 1,087-page encyclopedia of French food. When Julia tires of only being able to read recipes, not make them, she signs up for classes at the Le Cordon Bleu. As I think about how to be successful in my new home, I'm inspired about Julia's story. Success is about following my passions, staying open and curious with those around me, taking initiative, learning from failures, and being tenacious about moving forward step-by-step.

To me, the larger wisdom behind the Role Model exercise is that anytime you’re feeling stuck or trapped, fight the impulse to close in on yourself. Find yourself some new examples and possibilities. Stay curious. Reach out.

Where in life are you feeling stuck? Who could be your role model? Who could be your source of new possibilities? I’d love to hear about who comes to mind for you. Leave me a note in the comments about who that person is and how you’ll learn more about them. A bientôt!

Believe one who has proved it. Believe an expert.
— Virgil