The super stars of the music industry inspires millions to start playing. But they also inspire millions to give up. Most people are completely unaware of what happens when we idolize our role models. But I have encountered the destructive effects of this emotional pitfall time and time again:
We put our role models on a pedestal. We look up to them and view them as special and unique. That’s how they became our idols. But we can’t do one thing without also doing another:
We rarely think of someone as stupid without also seeing ourselves as intelligent.
We rarely think of someone as evil without also seeing ourselves as good.
We rarely think of someone as special without seeing ourselves as less special.
And we can’t put someone on a pedestal without putting ourselves at ground level.
There is absolutely nothing bad about having someone to look up to. Our idols are leaders that show us what’s possible. They show us what we humans can do when we apply ourselves.
IS IDOLIZING HURTING YOUR PROGRESS?
The challenge occurs when the looking up to someone becomes a looking down on yourself. This doesn’t mean that you consciously see yourself as a human being of lesser worth, but merely that you don’t expect yourself to ever be able to build the skills of your idols.
And you cannot celebrate the idol and still see yourself as equally capable. Simply because that’s what the idolizing is about: The idol being more and better than you. Instead you practice regularly but never really apply yourself a hundred percent and your passion for music is experienced through your idol’s achievements, not your own.
In this way, we become a special kind of fan to our idols. We don’t just enjoy listening to Elvis, we dress up like him, act like him and sing like him and we enjoy celebrating our idol and the specialness he represents.
Through creating and believing in a special and eternally unique human being, we become a little special and unique, but only because we are his fans. Only because his light shines on us. Not because of us at all. Because of him.
And that is all good! – if you’re an Elvis fan…
HOW YOU KNOW IF YOU NEED TO CHANGE SOMETHING
The massive sales success of signature model guitars confirms this point. This is our way (guitarists) of dressing up like our idols. Instead of wearing Elvis clothes we wear Joe Pass or Stevie Ray Vaughn guitars and enjoy the magic that seem to rub off.
But it does not build the skills you want, instead it keeps you from them…
[The only way in which our musical role models remain a clean source of inspiration and motivation is if we avoid idolizing them]
And how do you know if your favorite guitarist is a role model or an idol to you? That’s really easy:
If you can listen to people explain why they don’t like your role model or idol, without you getting the least bit upset or defensive, then you know it’s truly a role model and not an idol to you. If you spend a lot of time arguing and defending your role models, you are really defending yourself and your ideals when you could be practicing instead!
“I like avocado, but they have nothing to do with me so I don’t defend avocados when people say they absolutely hate them. Avocados are not idols to me.”
“I also like Elvis since he represents everything I value in life and so I defend him fiercely when someone says they hate him. There’s my idol…”
But this article is not about not being upset of defensive when someone mocks your role model and is not about not buying signature guitars. It’s not even about not turning your role model into an idol. It’s just a description of what tends to happen if you do.
FAKING IT DOESN’T WORK
What usually happens when we hear something like this is that we immediately start faking it. The next time someone says something bad about an idol of ours we feel the irritation and the urge to defend him or her, but then we pretend to be unaffected. But we are not! So no real change happened.
The productive way of making a change in this area is to manipulate your brain a little bit. You want to turn your idols into role models and here are some ways in which you can accomplish this:
1. Call them by their first name
From now on, turn Eric Clapton into just “Eric”. Turn Paco De Lucia into just “Paco”. If you do this enough this will move this person closer to your personal world and make them more down-to-earth thus removing some of the specialness. Because we normally call our friends by their first name and our idols by their full name, we can trick our brain to move them towards the friend category.
2. Think of them in everyday situations
Because we only hear from and watch our idols when they are “on” and not when they are “off” – the brain creates an unrealistic image of what this person is like. These people still look like s… in the morning. They still do the things that all mammals do and that does not look very attractive. Take a moment to imagine your favorite idol in everyday, ordinary situations in order to draw them closer to your world, the real world.
3. Imagine yourself sharing tips with your idol
Imagine yourself talking to your idols, but like friends, not like a god and her admirer. Like two friends exchanging tips on guitar playing – in the future. This future image can both serve as a motivating future situation that might occur when you reach the right skill level, but it also turns the idol into a possible friend. A human being with the same interest as you.
Right now, you can spend 30 seconds on each of the points, take some action right away and start the process. Then write them on a post-it-note and place it so you will notice it when you’re doing the mammal thing in the powder room. One simple two minute action right now – and you have made a real change for the future.