Ryan Martinsen

Realistic Role Models

I find looking up to people like Steve Jobs unrealistic and unobtainable.

When I look up to famous people I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I know they’re human, but their accomplishments are massive. I don’t know them. I can’t observe them directly.

What works for me is observing someone I know personally, someone who is much better at a thing than I am. Seeing a friend react well to a situation in which I typically react poorly is helpful in a way that no famous role model ever can be.

Here’s an example of how this works in my life. I’ve recently written and spoken about how complaining made me unhappy. One of the things that helped me stop complaining was to watch people I know who don’t complain.

Two of my friends, Justin Hileman and Joel Martinez are insanely good at not complaining or gossiping about people. Whenever I complain or gossip around them they stay silent, change the subject, or say something positive. They don’t do this in a trite way. It’s entirely genuine and I find it easy to relate to my life.

I am often inspired by the many wonderful things the super successful have done. But does it help? Yes, of course it does. But the danger lies in how I react to my inevitable failure.

It’s too easy to give up when I try and fail to learn from experts. I’ll obviously never be like them. I’ll never have a super successful product. I’ll never have super ripped abs1. I’m going to complain and alienate friends forever. It’s too depressing to see how much of an epic failure I am. I may as well give up now.

It’s much easier to keep trying in spite of failure when I’m learning from someone not that different from myself2.

There’s so much to learn from the very imperfect and not wildly successful people around me. It’s not overwhelming. It’s not discouraging. It’s attainable3.

Related: Listening to Advice


  1. I don’t actually care about this, but it might be something you care about. I’m sorry. You’ll have to keep seeing my flabby abs at the swimming pool for the foreseeable future.
  2. With apologies to my friends if they think they’re way better than me. Please let me live with my delusions.
  3. This, obviously, comes with the added bonus of rubbing it in your friends faces when you finally become better than they are. I kid. That’s not how this is supposed to work. Please don’t do that.
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