Right now, as you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance someone is looking up to you.

They’re thinking about you. Remembering something you said to them. Admiring you, even.

The one thing we chronically underestimate is the impact we have on others. Even if you’re highly self-aware, that awareness is typically focused on you—your strengths, weaknesses, feelings, thoughts, and self-talk.

But being aware of how all of that impacts other? We’re not so good at that. And this means that we often fail to see when we’re role models for others.

I’ve had the great privilege of holding the roles of teacher, counselor, and coach which means I have said a lot of things to a lot of people over the years—some of it useful and some of it not so much.

So I’ve heard on more than a few occasions something like: “Julie, you once told me….” or “I’ll never forget when you said….”

And when I hear statements like these, without fail, I wince. I brace myself for the inevitable cringe that follows hearing my words said back to me.

Sometimes I have a positive reaction, but most of the time it’s like seeing myself on video or hearing my voice on a recording. Really? I sound like that? I look like that? I said that?

The moral of the story: take yourself seriously.

You absolutely never know how your words impact another person. You never know if what you do, how you behave, or how you live your life will leave a lasting impression.

A good one—we hope. But it could just as well be a bad one.

You are a role model, whether you know it or not. And with that in mind, there are three things that I always try to remember:

1. Take Yourself Seriously

Several years ago I wrote a New Year’s post, “What do you know now you wish you had known when you were younger?”

I asked 50 friends, family members, and colleagues, between the ages of 13 and 88 that question and by and large, the most common response was some variation of I wish I had taken myself more seriously than I did. They said:
“I’d speak up more”

“I wish I had known it doesn’t matter what the neighbors think.”

“I wish I had been able to recognize when people or situations weren’t good for me and get out right away.”

“I wish I had had more self-belief.”

“I wish I had realized earlier how much of an impact I had on others — both in professional and personal relationships.”

Taking yourself seriously means making the time you have on this earth count. Investing your time and energy in those things that matter most to you. Spending time with the people that make you better.

And above all, taking yourself seriously means taking your opinion seriously.

As a coach, I have to remind my clients, “you’re being paid to have an opinion.” It’s all too easy to dismiss what we think and to keep silent—especially if we feel we’ll be the lone voice, or that others will dismiss what we think.

Time and time again, we look outside ourselves, follow influencers, succumb to peer pressure, and leave ourselves behind.

Taking what you think seriously doesn’t mean you’re right. It doesn’t even mean your opinion is valuable. It means taking the time to find out.

2. Your Words Matter

Back in January, I wrote about the power of having a platform in my newsletter about the year in power.

Social platforms are a new vehicle of power, amplifying and dispersing people’s voices at scale. A single tweet, post, video, or newsletter can reach millions, setting off a chain of events—sometimes very good, but often with dangerous and destructive consequences.

One tweet, taken out of context, can spark a riot or ruin a career.

And we rarely see this power being used with the sobriety and seriousness it deserves. Rather, it’s like a new toy, being used in careless and cavalier ways: to spread rumors, promote disinformation, or humiliate and make fun of others.

The internet and social media allow us to fire things off without time to think, without the pressure of face-to-face interaction, and without risk to reputation, allowing our very worst impulses free rein. So we indulge ourselves and take the opportunity to vent, be outraged, and ‘dunk on our opponents.’

We used to have to write letters. Remember letters? It took an hour, sometimes more. You would sit down and get out a pen and paper or typewriter and begin to write. You would re-read it. Scrap it. Start again. Often several times.

Why? Because you were thinking about what you wanted to say.

Your words matter. And the process of composing your thoughts allows you to revisit and carefully consider what you want to say.

Ryan Holliday in a recent Daily Stoic newsletter shared the story of Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald Reagan, who now regrets that she shared details of her life so openly:

“Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could,” she explained in a recent opinion piece. “Without hesitating I answered: “That’s easy. I’d have said, ‘Be quiet.’ Not forever. But until I could stand back and look at things through a wider lens. Until I understood that words have consequences, and they last a really long time.”

3. You’re bigger than you think

There’s a story about this that Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, tells in his book Only the Paranoid Survive.

In the earlier days of the company, there was a bug in one of the Intel Pentium processor versions. Intel knew about it but made the decision not to recall the processor because, in their assessment, the average user would rarely encounter the error, if at all.

That decision was met with a firestorm of criticism, and Grove was completely blindsided by the public’s reaction.

“I still thought of us as a creative, dynamic start-up that had just grown a bit bigger than the other creative, dynamic start-ups. We could still turn on a dime. Our people still put the interests of the company ahead of their own interests and, when problems arose, employees from all different divisions would still rally around and put in incredible hours without anyone ordering them to do so. Yet now the world seemed to treat us like some typical mammoth corporation. And, in the public view, this corporation was giving people the runaround.”

He was a victim of ‘identity jet lag,’ a yawning chasm between how he viewed his company and the way it was viewed by the rest of the world.

Identity jet lag is all too common. Because feeling small lasts well past the moment that others see us as big

We tend to think of ourselves as small, even as we’ve grown bigger, older, wiser, and more powerful. And the last thing we think of ourselves as is a role model.

But a good rule of thumb is to imagine you’re more powerful in the eyes of others than you think. In other words, overestimate your power. Why?

Because doing the opposite is a disaster. Feeling too small, inconsequential, or the victim of another opens up the door to the very worst versions of ourselves.

It enables us to shirk responsibility, feeling that what we have to say or do doesn’t matter. It encourages us to take an outraged posture, feeling like a victim of external forces. And it leads us to use more ammo in debates, believing that unless we shout or attack, we won’t be heard.

Above all, underestimating ourselves permits us to treat people in power with disrespect and abuse, because, well, they have power.

But if in the same circumstance, you overestimated your power and assumed that the other person saw you as having more power?

Maybe they’re intimidated by your confidence or knowledge. Maybe they want your respect. Maybe they see you as a worthy opponent and feel they had to bring the big guns.

When you overestimate your power, you might just act with more benevolence and generosity.

You might give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

At the very least you might just understand the other person better, and at the very most, you might just bring out the better angels of your nature, and not the worst.

Thanks for reading.