Who is there to look up to these days?

Yesterday I was Tweeting away when I was confronted with yet another measure of the online popularity contest. With algorithms and internet fairy dust, Klout measures your online influence. I found myself balking at the this new way to measure online role models (and not just because of my own pathetic little rating, I promise). What happened to our real-life role models? And why aren't we developing more of them, instead of developing software to keep score?

I always think of Julia Child. Talk about a Real-Life Makeover. Here's a woman who didn't even know she liked to cook, let alone could, until she was in her late 30's. That she went on to write what is still considered the bible of French cuisine for the home cook and star in a beloved television show with her towering frame and warbly voice is a testament to what anyone can achieve with passion and study. "Find something you're passionate about," said Child, "and keep tremendously interested in it."

I love the online sphere, of course: it's where I work, where I play, and where I learn. But what about the immeasurable clout of real-life role models? Maybe the ones who--imagine!--aren't even on television. Sure, you can't measure their effect with a score or an algorithm, but do you need to? Do you want to? What happened to the unquantifiable, the magic that a great person wields to inspire and encourage us to reach greater heights and expand our horizons of what's possible?

Oprah has inspired so many of us to find our passions and live our purpose. Elizabeth Gilbert taught us about adventure, and that one ending can lead to a thousand better beginnings (one starring Julia Roberts!). Nancy Pelosi brought a no-nonsense presence to the House, and Tina Fey has refuted the arguments, once and for all, that women aren't funny and smart women aren't sexy (yes, frighteningly, people still say such things). But to be a real-life role model, do you have to reach mythic proportions (maybe through death), like Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, and Ida B. Wells?

Who are the real-life models in our age? Who has expanded your horizons of what's possible and what you can accomplish? Do you feel like a popularity contest has replaced real, honest-to-goodness role models?



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