Admire, don’t imitate: Why imitating your heroes can be harmful

Be original, be yourself. Admiring your heroes is all right as long as you don't imitate them blindly

Admire, don't imitate

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
— Oscar Wilde

We live our lives trying to achieve happiness and fulfilment. Yet, most of us keep striving for that perfect feeling — a feeling of deep satisfaction that comes from self-actualisation.

What exactly is self-actualisation, you might ask. Certainly, it is not a destination that we must reach. It is a way of life. Abraham Maslow, who first coined the term “self-actualisation,” explained it, thus: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This is the need we may call self-actualisation… It refers to man’s desire for fulfilment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually what he is potentially: to become everything that one is capable of becoming…”

What, then, keeps most of us away from living self-actualised lives? Perhaps one of the most important reasons is that we live our lives patterned on others. As children, we learn how to behave by emulating the behaviour of those closest to us. As we grow up, we develop an ability to think and discern. We begin to realise that what serves us is not necessarily what serves others, regardless of how much you love them. Thus, we begin to acquire our quirks and understand our desires. We intrinsically know that we are different than others, and we have our own aspirations and desires. We also sense that we are uniquely gifted and our talents and abilities are our own.

Imitation — an acquired trait

Conflict begins when we are encouraged to imitate. Imitation is loosely defined as a behaviour in which an individual observes and replicates another’s behaviour.

Right from childhood, consciously or unintentionally, people around us compare us with others, and plant the seeds of imitation in our minds [Also read, Everyone is unique ]. The idea is to derive inspiration and achieve success in life. Often, unknowingly and inadvertently we begin to emulate those we admire, or are supposed to admire. The comparisons range from the immediate (our parents, siblings, friends and neighbours) to the distant greats — thought leaders, sports stars, celluloid celebrities, singers, and other performers. Soon, we identify our own heroes and begin to worship them. What’s more, in our media-proliferated age, our heroes are more likely to be “well-orchestrated” celebrities.

Imitation is dangerous

At first, it seems harmless. But, a closer look makes it evident that imitating others can be harmful to us in more ways than one.

A couple of years ago, 12-year-old Scott Buckle accidentally killed himself as he tried to imitate the character of Johnny Depp in the Hollywood blockbuster, Pirates of the Caribbean. According to BBC, Scott apparently hanged himself as he copied a scene in which Depp’s character escapes the noose.

Granted, this sounds like an extreme example, but the fact remains that imitation is usually detrimental to individuals of any age. There is documentary evidence that links imitation with depression, anxiety, and a drop in self-esteem.

Hero worship

When we take the focus off our own lives, and instead focus all our energy on the life of another, we are hero-worshipping. In doing so, we set our standards of performance/behaviour as per the standards of those we worship. Hero-worshipping is usually harmful, whether your “hero” is your dad, your dynamic boss, or a superstar like Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan. Often, hero-worshipping dazzles us so much that we forget we have our individual personality — our own thoughts, values, beliefs, and experiences.

Over two decades ago, best-selling author Richard Bach wrote an autobiographical love story, The Bridge Across Forever, in which he gave a detailed account of how he met and married his wife Leslie. So beautiful was this real-life account that it grabbed the attention of millions. It also influenced hundreds of thousands of readers into believing in the permanence of a soul mate relationship. Then, the unthinkable happened. Richard and Leslie filed for divorce. Fans, especially those who had patterned their own lives on the Bachs’ exemplar were devastated to learn about the unfortunate end to what seemed like the most perfect marriage. Scores of readers were outraged at Richard for having misled them into believing in soul mates. The point is: they have no one but themselves to blame. In worshipping their hero-writer, they forgot that he’s as subject to human frailties as anyone else.

Admire, don’t imitate

Admiring someone is natural. To admire is to have a high opinion of someone; there’s nothing wrong with that. When we admire without imitating, we simply learn from others, and pick up their positive traits, without consciously trying to be like them.

Trouble begins only when our admiration turns us into blind imitators, or it blurs our vision and makes us forget our own uniqueness. Then we become, in the words of Judy Garland, “second-rate versions of somebody else,” instead of first-rate versions of ourselves.

It is imperative for us to acknowledge that talents differ from one individual to another, and so do abilities. We are all especially gifted. In doing so, we may look up to many great individuals who have achieved success in their spheres. But, we do not have to pattern our lives on them to feel happy and fulfilled.

Our true fulfilment lies in being able to discover and, then, live the life we want to live. To do that, it is imperative to identify “who we really are.” No less a genius than Johann von Goethe said, “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.”

Be true to yourself

You are you, and why should you be someone else? So steer clear of imitation Be yourself, and live your life, not someone else’s. When you’re true to yourself, you live the life that serves your highest purpose. While on this path, when you make mistakes, they are your own. You learn from them, and progress, but you’ll also feel fulfilled and self-actualised on the way.

The next time you find yourself comparing and emulating a hero, or a celebrity, or anyone else, just remember the title of the book by John Mason: You Were Born an Original. Don’t Die a Copy!

Celebrity Worship: Danger Zone

In a study published in The British Journal of Psychology, psychologists established a “sliding scale” of celebrity worship — one in which the devoted fan becomes increasingly hooked onto the object of their attention, until their feelings begin to resemble addiction.

In another study with more than 600 people, psychologists found that about a third qualified for a condition they coined “celebrity worship syndrome” — in severe forms of the syndrome, the object of our worship becomes the central figure in our lives.

“Information about the celebrity, or any little thing from their life, is like a fix the worshipper must have — they are almost compelled to learn more, read more, know more. And, it’s non-ending,” says Long Island, NY, psychologist Abby Aronowitz, PhD.

Experts also emphasise that some people even begin to believe they have some special connection to the celebrity. Not surprisingly, the study also found feverish fans are likelier to suffer from anxiety, depression, and social dysfunction. And, while the authors are clear on the fact that being a fan does not cause you to be dysfunctional, they say it can certainly increase your risk.


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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


  1. This article is definately true. There is someone at the local gym that I attend and is really annoying me. She imitates me to the bone if you know what I mean. As soon as I walk in, her eyes are on me, her look follows me everywhere I go. She constantly watches me and my routine and then starts to imitate me. She imitates me to the point that she even does her hair like mine. It is so annoying. I feel like confronting the person but I dont know if I should. I feel very uncomfortable and I dont think it would be fair for me to leave the gym. What would you do?

    • It should be her problem for not having confidence in herself. Be flattered that she likes you so much. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

      I liked this article. I’m constantly trying to fixate on someone to like and copy either among celebrities or people I meet in my life. It does make me depressed when I cannot be them.


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