An integral part of the development of one’s physical and/or intellectual dimensions, is to have concrete goals as well as role models, two things that may be closely intertwined and interplay. But what kind of apporach is appropriate when it specifically comes to the latter?
First of all, one has to distinguish between role models and idols. I will not dwell on other people’s choices and preferences in life, but for me at least, it seems the opposite of constructive to have any kind of idol at all. It is not like we should pretend that people are of equal social status, or that it is wrong to admire other for their talents and achievements, whether it includes athletes, authors, actors, inventors, philosophers or some other category of people. Rather the opposite. But to worship other, and hence degrade oneself, undermine both the inner and outer foundations of one’s being. It can only make you weak, subordinate and passive to put other on a pedestal, and it is as bad as to resent the higher status of other people.
However, I think this phenomenon is almost self-evidently partly due to individual differences in taste and disposition, and therefore it is understandable that some might fall under the vertical axis of the late modern society’s living gods and goddesses and start to lionize, while other are more or less indifferent to the whole thing. For me, to the extent that I have met celebrities, in for instance L.A. and NYC, I have never cared that much and am for the same reason obviously more suitable to be in that sort of social settings. An ironic paradox.
In any case, due to the asserted reason I do at most have role models in life, not idols. The lines between these two categories are perhaps a bit blurry, but the lack of worship regarding role models still makes it a relevant conceptual distinction. Thus, one does for instance seek for a better physique by looking up to athletes who are partly or completely better than oneself and strives to gradually reach that level, or at least narrow the gap between oneself and the role model in question. That is the basic principle of having a role model in the constructive sense.
The same line of thinking is of course also applicable in regard to intellectual development. For example, one can strive to be a little bit more like Umberto Eco and/or Steven Pinker in terms of the amount of knowledge to possess in order to be more intellectually complete.
Perhaps the best thing with aiming at certain role models is also that it sheds light on the comparative and relative dimension which is often involved in most fields that demand a constant progress in order to excel. It is mainly about one’s particular development, rather than a wish to be exactly like some other person, but you still have to compare yourself to other and relate to the qualities and/or quantities that presuppose their respective level of achievement. Not even hardcore individualists exist in a societal vacuum, and complete self-absorption can only be counterproductive.
This implies that it might be relevant to change and replace role models at different stages of life, depending on a number of different contextual factors, of which some probably are more subjective while other being more objective. It might also imply that it is relevant to have a rather vast number of role models and in different respects. As contradictory as it may seem, one probably needs a whole pantheon of role models – not idols – not to worship, but to aspire to reach or at least approach in terms of their skills and qualities.