Looking for a Role Model? Don’t Let Perfection Impede Possibility

Over the course of my career, I have mentored many young women who have had difficulty in identifying role models. For immigrants and women of color, like me, it can be difficult to find powerful female role models who look or sound like us. If we are lucky enough to find one, she is oftentimes inaccessible. However, my experiences have taught me a few things about finding powerful female role models.

First, I have learned that when a woman defines the word powerful for herself, her search for a powerful female role model will be significantly easier. For some, powerful may reflect the position a woman holds in society, and a Nancy Pelosi or Kathleen Wynne may fit the description. Others may associate power with social influence and opt for the likes of an Oprah Winfrey or Beyonce.

The second lesson I learned is this: No single role model will possess all the traits we seek, and that women from very different walks of life can serve as exemplars. Taking the limits off what a role model should look or sound like, and focusing instead on who they are, how they define themselves, and how they live their lives, can introduce us to powerful women whose lives can teach us a great deal.

Re-defining the word powerful for myself and thinking more broadly about who could serve as my role model led me to finding one in the most unconventional, yet unsurprising place—my own family. While I have identified celebrities, elected officials, and senior executives as role models, I am lucky enough to have been raised by the most influential exemplar and a powerhouse in her own right—my mother, Vienna Hylton.

My mother shattered glass ceilings and battled social norms to chart her path, maximize very limited resources, and defy the odds. In her own way and on her own terms, she built a life that represents who she is and in keeping with her personal values. How much more powerful can one be?

So, as you embark on or continue your journey, remember this: Don’t allow perfection to impede possibility. Clearly define the characteristics you seek. And remove self-imposed limitations and biases. You may be surprised how many powerful female role models cross your path every day!