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Guardian spirits: An alternative to role models

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
Guardian spirits: An alternative to role models

I read a great but bit-heavy-for-the-Whippet article on role models and gender (linked here, but it's not my main point here). In response to the piece, some friends and I tried to name role models and realised we don't really connect to the idea at all:

F: My only role models are people I know for fairly specific things: "this person has a good approach to navigating the academic job market" and so on. There are plenty of people whose opinions I respect, but that's different to wanting to emulate them
C: Maybe I don't know what a role model is. A person I want to be like?
F: Based on how I've most often seen the word used, I would say it means: footballers

I don't really feel comfortable with the idea of calling anyone a role model. (Or, also, maybe I don't know what one is.)

But then I came across Austin Kleon's old blog post about guardian spirits. Every time he starts a new notebook/journal, he chooses a new guardian spirit to watch over it from inside the front cover. (Emily Dickinson on the left, a robot drawn by his 4-year-old kid on the right.)

I like that better.

Firstly, a guardian spirit only needs to watch over one area of your life. You could have one for your garden, one for trying to be a good friend, one for work.

Secondly, it doesn't need to be someone you want to emulate, just someone who's energy you want to bring into whatever you're doing. It would be a bit worrying to have that robot as a role model, but makes perfect sense to try and bring some of its freewheeling vibe to your writing. If you get easily stressed and off-kilter at work, you could choose someone with a very calm, saintly demeanour, even if you don't want to be all beatific all the time.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #85 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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