Do you have a role model? Who is he or she? Is it someone you know or is it someone famous? Why do they qualify for that role in your life?
Even a poor penman will become substantial in the art of calligraphy if he studies by imitating a good model and puts forth the effort. A retainer should be able to become substantial, too, if he takes a good retainer as his model.
Today, however, there are no models of good retainers. In light of this, it would be good to make a model and to learn from that. To do this, one should look at many people and choose from each person his best point only. For example one for politeness, one for bravery, one for the proper way of speaking, one for correct conduct, and one for steadiness of mind. Thus will the model be made.
I chuckle every time I read a Facebook post or an email from one of you about me being your role model, or mentor, or you being my student. At best, we are peers, and most likely, I am behind you. I’m just learning my way through all this stuff. I’m figuring it out. We are all students together.
When Charles Barkley and now LeBron James declared that they are not role models, they were 100% correct. Why would they be role models? It’s not to say they couldn’t be, but I don’t know these guys personally, I have no idea what they are really like, do you? I bet you if you took a sampling of all professional athletes, musicians, politicians…all public figures, you would objectively find there, the same percentage of people that could be considered good role models as you would in everyday life. No better percentage than you’d find in a random sampling of the average 9-5 worker. Yet we put these guys on a pedestal because they are famous.
People aren’t perfect. And most are very far from it. Making this Hagakure passage as correct in the west today as it was hundreds of years ago in Japan. You shouldn’t have one role model, because you’re setting yourself up for a huge fall at some point, when you discover just how imperfect that person is.
This should not be confused with ‘comparing yourself’ with all these great singular qualities of a large group of people. Yes, you look like an idiot compared with the business savvy of Steve Jobs of Apple, you look like you’re carrying a piano on your back when comparing yourself to the athletic ability of LeBron James, you look illiterate when you’re comparing your writing ability with that of Ernest Hemingway. If you try to measure yourself against the best, it can be depressing. You don’t ever need to compare yourself to others, only compare yourself today with yourself from yesterday.
This passage is saying to find qualities in people you want to be like, and mimic what they do with respect to those qualities. The idea is to show you the possibility. To dangle the greatness out there to you. To show you where you could take yourself with effort and drive, and possibly a bit of luck.
In my job, I’m constantly comparing my work to other people’s work. But other people turn in substandard work from time to time. Or have a bad month or year. So why am I striving to be these people who aren’t perfect in everything they do? I justify mediocre work by looking at the mediocre work of someone I consider ‘great’ at what they do. It’s a mistake. And it holds me back.
Try to equal their BEST work, not just their normal work. It asks you to shoot higher. To go for more. To go after the highest and the best possible in every area in which you aspire to be great. That’s a recipe for success. And not just in business. Not just in school. In life.