5 Traits of People Worth Looking Up To

Aug 30, 2021
Edited by the author — original image from Pexels


Who you admire says a lot about you.

You’ll likely try to copy their personality traits whether you’re aware of it or not. It makes choosing the right people to look up to critical for how you develop as a person. Our species has survived for so long by imitating those we respect.

Yet if you’re reading this, you're past the stage of needing to copy just to survive. It becomes less obvious who to follow. If we don’t pay attention, celebrities and influencers can distort our values and we could end up down a path we didn’t want.

The trick is to admire people when you know them deeply not by the external markers of their success. You’ve never heard of the people who’ve had the greatest positive impact on me but I am blessed to have seen the inner workings of their minds. These are the traits I find in the people I look up to.


#1 They lead a double life

A decade ago, I went to a community charity event with my father. It’s the kind where everyone is patting each other on the back and kissing ass. They drink as much as they can to get their money’s worth for the price of admission. They miss the irony.

The program was stuffed full of adverts for businesses owned by donators. The host gave shout-outs one by one to those who contributed and the room gave them each a round of applause.

Disappointment sat in my gut at the end of the night.

My dad’s name wasn’t called out and his business wasn’t in the program. Had he not done his part?

Yet he had but requested for his name not to be included anywhere. This event was meant to be about who was being helped not the helpers. He didn’t care about showing off, he cared about the people whose lives had been saved.

There’s a blurry line between encouraging others to help and simply wanting glory. When an opportunity presents itself, I try to help without seeking any gratitude. The people I admire most do their good deeds in the shadows.


#2 They pick the right tool

Abraham Maslow declared the law of the hammer in 1966 but it’s timeless:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”

The human mind is a swiss army knife. It’s multifunctional. Yet some people choose to stick to one tool regardless of the circumstance.

It’s a convenient excuse to call ourselves hot-tempered or laid-back as if it’s set in stone. Reacting to every problem the same way means we will overreact or underreact most of the time and occasionally hit the sweet spot.

Knowing which tool to use and how much pressure to apply is a difficult skill but one we can all master. Those unafraid to dance in the nuances can be the right person for the good times and the bad because they can vary their response.

The people I admire the most don’t make bad decisions because “it’s just the way they are”. They adapt their actions to take care of others.


#3 They appreciate their luck

There’s a current trend on Instagram which makes me roll my eyes.

Self-confessed successful people are sharing a meme where “they were lucky” is crossed out and replaced with “they worked hard”.

The delusion of those who believe they’ve earned everything they have baffles me. I have an objectively higher living standard than most people and it’s not because I’m so special. I had so many privileges such as a caring family, being raised in a rich nation, and having access to high-quality education.

Yes, I had to work hard too but to claim it’s all down to me would be a blatant lie. Getting where you want to be in life sometimes needs the stars to align, you don’t need to apologize for this but you should understand the complexity.

The people I look up to the most are honest about their circumstances. They are quick to mention the impact of others in a way that feels genuine.


#4 They can dine with their enemy

There’s a popular reality show in the UK called Love Island. You can guess what it’s about and it won’t win any Oscars.

This year there were British Asians appearing for the first time. Social media hailed them as trailblazers and icons. Then one revealed her political leanings and the praise turned to disgust. All of a sudden she was being attacked by the exact same people!

This attitude has become far too common. We no longer seek to understand how other people see the world but instead put up walls and hurl abuse. You can’t change someone’s opinions if you see them as one-dimensional. You might disagree on one aspect of life but have a lot in common in other areas.

I shudder to think of where this ends up. You see someone having a heart attack and you first check their voting history before offering help?

Andrew Gold is the host of the On The Edge podcast and purposely seeks out people with extreme views. He hears their stories and presents his opposing opinions in a mature way. He told me one of his favorite parts of what he does is when his listeners tell him his podcast has made them more tolerant.

Anger is easy. I most respect the people who can engage and make the world a safer place.


#5 They keep a beginner’s mind

Personal branding seems to have gone nuts in recent times though maybe I’m just more aware of it. Everyone says they are an expert but few actually are.

In my karate days, I could gauge the mindset of another black belt by asking them to rate themselves out of ten. The lower someone rated themselves, the better I knew they would become.

Despite the media portrayal, a black belt only implies a decent handle of the basics. It shows they are ready to begin learning the real stuff. An Okinawan master can train for 50 years and still have hundreds of things they want to improve.

The challenge for people who know others look up to them is how to not let it go to their heads. When someone believes their own hype, they stop learning and listening to others. It’s the enemy of growth.

The people I look up to the most have people they look up to. They have the self-confidence to admit when they are wrong and are happy to expand their mind.

Who do you look up to and do they have these traits? I’ve always found the people who want desperately to be admired lack them. It’s who they are when the cameras aren’t rolling that counts. Often the quiet ones who live away from the spotlight are who make the difference.

Maybe you have someone in your life who has all these traits but you’ve taken them for granted. It might be time to change your perspective and show them some more appreciation. They might not change the world but they could change your life.

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.