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07.12.11

Learn From Your Heroes, but Believe in Yourself

It is natural to want to be like the people we look up to. We want to recreate the success they have enjoyed in our own lives. So we try to imitate them. It seems like the shortest distance between two points. Of course, we are trying to copy a result. What we often fail to see is the work it took to get them to the place where they could do what they do. And sometimes it’s all flash and no substance.

And while you can try to copy a style, mannerisms, or life path, what makes it work for them isn’t what is written down. It’s what they can’t teach you that makes it work for them. It’s the things you can’t easily articulate that come from the core of your being—that which makes you you—that makes the difference.

Harvard Business School Professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George, wrote, “Any prospective leader who buys into the necessity of attempting to emulate all the characteristics of a leader is doomed to failure.” It’s one thing to learn from others, it’s quite another to try to imitate them.

A big part of the problem is the lack of confidence we have in ourselves. Sometimes in watching the success of others, we lose faith in ourselves. “There is but one cause of failure and that is a man’s lack of faith in his true self,” observed William James.

Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz took a teaching position at Stanford in 1986. In an interview with a reporter about his role there, he put it this way:
I’m a strong opponent of imitation. I always tell them that they have to be themselves. That’s hard, because they don’t believe in themselves, they believe in their heroes. And I will tell them: that’s perfectly alright, but your hero is the only one who can play that way. If you want to try and do the same thing, it will only be an imitation, however perfectly you will do it. I keep on trying to convince them that they have to play what they feel themselves. But that’s not easy.
Your hero is the only one that can play it that way. Be yourself.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:43 PM
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