I was driving my 15-year-old to school a few days ago. She was having a particularly challenging week with final exams and a big project, and she was showing some signs of stress.
I asked her if she had ever seen those WWJD bracelets. “No.”
Did she know what WWJD stands for? “No.”
I explained that it means “What would Jesus do” and that people would wear them as a reminder of how they wanted to act throughout the day when facing challenges. While Jesus is certainly a good choice, I encouraged her to think of any role models in her life that she could be inspired by and keep them in mind to help her respond to hard things as she went through a tough day.
I explained that as a kid I was drawn to the biographies section of my school library. There were short biographies of a wide range of historical figures, and I couldn’t get enough of them. From MLK to Lincoln to George Washington Carver (the peanut guy) to Hannibal (the general with the elephants!), the heroes of those little books fueled my imagination and became role models. Biographies continued to be my primary reading material throughout my teenage and early adult years as I was trying to piece together how to be an adult.
I do think all those biographies wired in me some baseline standards as well as aspirational goals of how I want to think and act. While I don’t recall literally asking myself “What would Lincoln do?” (I’ve read a lot of Lincoln biographies), my subconscious mind is likely shaped by all those role models I’ve absorbed. Beyond reading, though, I know I’ve also soaked in character traits and mannerisms from, of course, my family and friends and coworkers and bosses and public figures and celebrities and even fictional characters. As a young man I aspired to become a kind of synthesis of Abraham Lincoln, David Letterman, Captain Picard, and Indiana Jones. I have come far short of that potentially epic hybrid of heroes.
I still often find myself automatically mimicking the way my dad stands or using one of my mom’s expressions or telling a funny line reflexively aiming for a hint of Obama’s wry humor. Even the way I over-enthusiastically greet someone appearing in my office door by saying their name with an exclamation point is a direct copy of one of my first coworkers from thirty-plus years ago. We are all products of our influences, and we can choose which influences we absorb by the books we read and the media we consume and the people we spend time with. You can be intentional about shaping your character by studying the kinds of characters you aspire to be like.
After monologuing a much shorter version of this line of thinking with my daughter on the way to school, she seemed to appreciate my point or was at least willing to humor me. Knowing she’s a Taylor Swift fan, I suggested that maybe her mantra for the tough day ahead could be: “What would Taylor do?” She pondered that for a moment, then came back with “How about WWRGD?”
“What would Rory Gilmore do?” Ah, of course. Brilliant! Rory Gilmore of The Gilmore Girls TV show was an ace student who got into Yale, so, naturally, channeling Rory would be the move on exam day. She was quick to add that she would be thinking of high school Rory, not college Rory, who she thought made some poor decisions in that particular era of the show. This level of discernment was impressive and amusing and had me driving away from the school that morning feeling confident she would be just fine.