What to Do When a Role Model Lets You Down


He was always someone I looked at in exhaustive admiration for support, encouragement- a reason for existing.

Then he became just like everyone else

And I was the one who felt stupid.


We all have that one person we put on a pedestal, a race in our minds- they cross the finish line first. Not because they’re the fastest but because they have no competition. We have people in our lives we hold up so highly that we have to strain our necks to look their way. In our minds, when it comes to moral high grounds and perfected demeanor, there is our role model and there’s the rest of the world. Always detached, never fused into the same categories in our minds.

They’re perfect.

It’s the way they make us feel: safe, comfortable, validated. It’s the way they always seem to do the right thing, even when it isn’t easy. It’s the way that they always know what to say to calm us down, to make us feel special. It’s the way that when we think of them, we only know moments of inspiration, of sanction.

What happens when those ideals are shattered? What are we supposed to do when the person we look up to the absolute most in the world lets us down?

The answer is I don’t know. I didn’t anyway. This very moment materialized when I least expected it and honestly, I didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately, in my life, this moment has happened far more often than I wish it would and I was forced to reach inside myself and deal with it in one of the only ways I know how: making mental lists.

List making seems tedious, pointless maybe but it has helped me navigate these situations and keep what is important for moving on, in the forefront of my mind. So here it is.


The World is Not Against You


It’s a very world-shattering moment. At first, it’s so easy to get the sinking feeling where your heart drops to your stomach and it seems like the entire world is out to get you. Losing trust, confidence, and faith in the one person who was always an endless supply of all those things, can feel unjust. I often think of the feeling being as if I was walking across a long area rug and someone came by and pulled the entire rug out from under me, leaving me to fall and become injured on the hard floor. I think that’s why it’s such a common expression. It’s heartbreakingly unexpected because they were the one person you could always count on. It’s so easy to feel like: if this person can let me down, then so can everyone else. It’s even easier to feel like if this person isn’t here for you, the rest of the world could never be. It’s important to keep in mind that the entire world is not out to get you. Humans are supposed to be imperfect; it’s woven into their DNA. They are flawed, they make mistakes, they lie, and they disappoint- most of them will disappoint many people over and over again. Even if this person seemed like your entire world, seemed like your personal moral compass, they’re only human.


Don’t Get Angry


Even though I made this list, I find this one particularly difficult to follow. I think, at first, when the fall out begins to unwind, we get angry at them for deceiving us. It’s normal to feel this way. However, I felt angrier with myself. I felt stupid for idolizing this person who only treated me the same way that others who disappointed me had. I felt stupid for thinking that this person wanted what was best for me, that they were rooting for me when they weren’t. I felt stupid and that made me angry. I think the hardest truth to come to terms with is that I thought this person was different. I thought that this person would never fall under the category of people who have hurt me.

But they did.

Thinking that someone is “different” and realizing they’re not, can be devastating. When you give someone their own unique category in your heart, its destruction can create so much chaos. You find yourself asking who can I trust now? And even more devastating yet is the question of why wasn’t I good enough? It’s such a slap in the face to be wrong about someone who was so concrete in your life. It’s important to remember that their mistakes will never be your fault.  It will never be a reflection on your worth and value as a person. Don’t be angry with yourself, let that feeling go. It has no room in you open and loving heart.


It’s Not a Bad Thing to Open Your Heart


I remind myself that opening my heart to this person, leaving myself vulnerable for letdown, is not a bad thing. To open my heart and let someone in at all, to spread kindness and inspire inclusion, will never be wrong. I find myself again feeling stupid for opening myself up but the truth is, even after so much pain, I am still grateful that I did it. When I reach deep down within myself, I have realized that I would rather love the people I do and let them hurt me then to have never loved them at all. If I had to, I’d do it one hundred times again.

A role model, someone we look up to, their character can become so distorted by the lens of admiration that we look through. We expect the best from them, silently willing them to satisfy our need to feel important, validated. We want this so badly that even when they don’t deliver, we wish they would. We waste our efforts on people who, most of the time, will turn out to be just like everyone else anyway.


People Are Not God


Humans are not perfect. They never will be. The only perfect being in this universe is our God. He is whole and perfect and doesn’t ever make a mistake. Even though we understand this truth, we still sometimes expect humans to be perfect. Why? Why do we expect perfection from someone that we know fundamentally could never deliver it?

Mistakes are so expected, encouraged even. People will let us down and disappoint us. It’s their nature. We can’t expect perfection from anyone. As hard as it is to deal with, as heartbreaking as it can be, we must remember that having our ideals skewed and our morals blur in the face of our setbacks is one of the most natural parts of life. It’s unavoidable.

People are people. Even if it seemed like you held this person, this role model, to a different standard than most other people in your life, they can still fail you. It’s so important to be empathetic and look past your despair towards forgiveness. After all, we’re all human and just because you held this person up so highly, it doesn’t mean that they don’t still deserve your forgiveness.

We pick these people to be our role model for a reason. we admire something within them and even when they make mistakes, that something is still there. After such a letdown, things won’t be the same- I won’t lie- but it’s so important to remember all the things we loved about them in the first place. Remember how they made you feel- empowered, confident, special.

Remember all the things you love about them, go through this list, take a deep breath, and move on. Let all the anger, all the hurt, all the disappointment flee. Take back your understanding of the world even if your point of view has shifted.

Even if things are never the same again, you are a stronger person because of them.

3 thoughts on “What to Do When a Role Model Lets You Down”

  1. hey love, this article is poignant and I can relate to this! What I’ve come to understand is that when the “role model disappoints” us, we’re ready to rise as our own teacher and role model. And it’s ok to be angry btw, it’s not defining you in any way, it’s simply an emotion coursing through and looking to make space for more love, power and harmony! Sending you much love, Lisy xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wow. this article described everything so exact to my situation. honestly, i was hoping the end to say that we should continue to have them as a role model and just forgive them, but i’m not sure if i should. i would love some advice! i’m in leadership and this summer, just before school started, we had bonding camp. we did this thing where we got in a circle around a fire and everyone would talk about their problems to encourage vulnerability. it brought a lot of tears around, and it helped me speak up about my insecurities involving being good enough. my older sister goes to berkeley and went to private high school and basically had perfect grades. i was terrified of not being able to fulfill that standard and i had already fallen short of it. every single person had told me to lower my standards in one way or another because my sisters were simply unattainable. i was so worried with disappointing my parents and not being able to handle high school because i didn’t have a balanced role model. my sister had a horrible emotional life because of the people she surrounder herself and i just didn’t know who to look up to. after speaking up, a senior was sitting by me, who i already had sort of liked after knowing her for a couple months, whispered in my ears telling me that i was capable and she had no doubt in her mind. she was the first person to ever tell me that. ever. after a few minutes, she went on to talk about her struggles. i was shocked. i won’t get too into detail but she had been through physical abuse, suicidal actions, depression, and just horrifying things. after the bonfire, she pulled me aside and told me she saw a lot of herself in me and wanted to help me. she gave me some of the best words of advice i had ever heard that night following her pulling me aside. i was so influenced and changed. i went to bed shaking that night because i couldn’t believe all that she had been through. i admired the way she still helped me with my issues instead of subconsciously belittling them since she had been through so much more. i felt so angry and guilty because i felt she was doing so much for me and i couldn’t return the favor since i had no experience with all she was going through. anyway, after that i had put her on this pedestal and had this image that we were going to grow so close throughout the year and that she would be my guide. and then, she sort of stopped talking to me too much. i was a little bit confused. the school year started and i felt a longing to talk to her but i never could. i thought maybe, she didn’t see herself in me anymore. i found out she was a ‘cool kid’ and heard from other upperclassmen that she had sex and drugs, which i know is totally normal for high schoolers, but i don’t know, something was weird to me about it. it was more that she was a “cool kid” that made me insecure that maybe she got the wrong image of me and maybe i wasn’t like her; and i wasn’t similar to her. i thought i wasn’t cool enough or something. during kindness week, we wrote anonomyous notes to someone in the school and i wrote mine to her. i thanked her for the specific words of advice she gave me so i know she knows it’s from me. she didn’t thank me or come up to me at all. she doesn’t have to but it still is a bit hurtful. i have a lot going on since school started and all i want to do is talk to her about it, but now i just feel like i can’t. i’m confused. i looked up to her so much and i want to talk to her about what i’m going through so bad but i feel like she doesn’t like me anymore.


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