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Are you someone’s role model? Lessons from Charles Barkley

Dec 2, 2014

Michael Jordan was my hero growing up. Like many other kids, I just wanted to “be like Mike.” I can remember the day he retired (the first time), I wept. And while he would always be my childhood idol, no player from his era has made me laugh more than Charles Barkley.

Charles Barkley has given us many gifts. I cannot hear anyone say the word “terrible” without thinking about how Chuck says it. Whenever I play golf, I think to myself “at least my swing looks better than Barkley’s.” (Caution: video contains some profanity) And when I was growing up, Charles Barkley taught me a word  – “role model” – when he announced to the world that he was not one.

Barkley: A Role Model?

Barkley was not the first athlete or celebrity who struggled with the spotlight placed on them, nor the first person who bristled at the idea that young people emulated them or saw them as a role model. For people like Charles Barkley, it must be daunting to consider the connection between the smallest of their decisions and their influence on thousands or millions of people. To have that many people taking their cues from you has to be overwhelming at times. I don’t blame Barkley at all for trying to avoid the role model tag. In his shoes, I would probably do my best to avoid that responsibility too.

But, did you know Charles, you and I are not all that different? No, you may not pronounce it “turrible,” nor take 150 shots to complete a round of golf.

Me, you, Charles – we are all someone’s role model.

Me: A Role Model?

Now the smallest decision you make is likely not being picked apart on blogs and social media around the world.  And children around the country are probably not watching your footwear for cues about what to buy for their own. But, someone is watching what you do and emulating you. They’re following your lead. Your actions become their cues. Your attitude (or change in attitude) shapes their own. This may be the first time you’ve heard this – you’re someone’s role model.

In working on my book proposal, I shared a draft with a couple friends. Recently, I heard back from a friend who was providing me some feedback. After sending me an email with her suggested revisions, she sent another email which simultaneously surprised, humbled, encouraged and moved me.

One more thought. I used to know that when I found something ridiculous that frustrated me, and was ripe with sarcasm potential, I could share it with you and we’d have a ball. Now, something like that happens, and depending on the level of frustration, I hate you a little bit because I’ve lost a cynic buddy. 🙂 Most of the time though, I remember what God has taught me through you, and adjust.

You know, I’m about to move for the third year in a row around Christmas time. I’ll be living with my grandma, and my soon to be thrice divorced mom. That will be my reality for the rest of my life unless a miracle happens and I get married. I don’t speak to the man who fathered me, or the man who adopted me, because I’m not important enough to them for them to deal with me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about finding a girl hanging, practically dead in the bathroom at school. I should be a mess. By God’s grace, I’m not. A large part of that is seeing the change that occurred in you when the resurrection took hold in your life, which led me to allow the resurrection to take hold in me. It allowed me to open myself up to deadbeat dad number two again, knowing that it could end as badly as it in fact did.
Your work matters. You make a difference. Christ in you, has changed my life.

I sat in my car reading that message, not really sure what to do in response. I was speechless. I’m not sure whether the term “role model” fit or not, but my decisions were directly impacting how someone else navigated an incredibly difficult season in their life.

What Does Your Influence Feel Like?

Maybe you’re not as famous as Charles and his ‘turrible” golf skills. Maybe you don’t create best-selling shoes or regularly appear on television. Sure, thousands may not be liking, retweeting or sharing the things you post on social media.

Regardless, you are someone’s role model and this post is your opportunity to reconsider your influence. For instance, if someone is modeling their decisions after you, what would they be doing today? If someone took their cues from you, what would their decision look like? If you are their biggest influence, what kind of person would they be? What would they believe about the world?

I learned something about influence recently. I watched a lot of football games over the Thanksgiving holiday, which means a LOT of commercials. One of the repeated ones was for the final installment in the Hobbit film trilogy. As I was thinking about the world J.R.R. Tolkien created, I was reminded of the Fellowship of the Ring. You know, those nine characters who (including Frodo) bound themselves to an impossible task – get the ring to the fires of Mordor and destroy it forever. The members of this fellowship – Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Gandalf the Grey, Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn (Strider), Boromir, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, and Peregrin “Pippin” Took – they each brought something unique to this cause with their life and influence.

Influencing Those Around You

Watching that commercial, I realized my tendency is to think MORE about how others are influencing me than I do about how I am influencing them. I think about how I can get under the influence of a prophetic voice like Gandalf or how I can find a best friend like Sam. I wonder about how important the passion of Legolas is to helping me pursue my calling or the difference the tenacity of a Gimli would make when things become difficult. There is a place to consider the kinds of people in our lives, including whose influence is shaping our future. But for this conversation, I want us to recognize something.

Life is just as much (if not more) about evaluating what we would contribute to someone else’s fellowship as it is about “stacking our fellowship.” I tend to view myself as Frodo first and consider what other people would contribute to my journey, while rarely thinking of myself as any one of the other 8 members of that tribe and what my offer is to the group.

When it comes to friendship and influence, it is vital for us to remember to look in the mirror at our own responsibilities before we go look out the window at someone else’s.

Embracing Our Identity as a Role Model

As I think about my friend’s note to me and her words (“seeing the change that occurred in you when the resurrection took hold in your life…led me to allow the resurrection to take hold in me,”) I realize that I am a part of her fellowship and the transformation in my life has produced transformation in hers.

I believe the same power, influence and potential lies in you. The same “Christ in you” that my friend wrote about already lives in so many of you. And if it does not, He could move in today if you were ready and willing.

Someday, someone may write you a note, saying a similar thing based on the decisions and actions you take today and with the rest of this year. Who you choose to be today and what you choose to do with your circumstances (the good and the bad) not only shapes your future, but the future of the people whose lives you touch – consciously and unconsciously.

You have no idea what might come from the influence you have on someone else today.

Take 5 minutes today and consider your influence on other people. Ask a couple people close to you to reflect back to you what your influence feels like right now. If you don’t like what you hear, take action and become the kind of influence you want to be under.

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