(For non Marathi speakers -Tai translates to “older sister” in English, but it’s often customary to call any older girl (or woman) “Tai” out of respect.)

To be a role model. What does it truly entail?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been “Sayli Tai” to many. Whether they’ve actually gone so far as to calling me ‘Tai’ or not – the weight of that role and the responsibility it holds has always been on the forefront of my mind.

About 15 years ago, a friend of mine (also an older sibling) and I were talking about our younger siblings and discussing what it means to be a “Tai”. At that time she put it beautifully – “You’re not their parent so they can confide in you like a friend, but you’re not their friend so you can guide them like a parent”.

That conversation has stuck with me for life, not only to be applied to my biological little but every little that has come my way for any sort of confiding or guidance. And I believe that is the essence of what it means to be a role model. Then of course everything else follows, i.e. practice what you preach, lead by example… etc.

Last year I had a very sweet young lady reach out to me, initially finding me through dance, but eventually more so because of her curiosity revolving around my blogs and life. Soon thereafter, her questions started to flow in asking for life advice. “Sayli! What did you do when….” or, “Sayli what would you do if…”

So much life advice requested. And so much life advice given. So many stories shared. She grew on me and I found her questions and curiosity endearing. Over time, I started seeing her like a younger sister.

And then one day as we were talking a rather funny image struck my mind. I imagined someone who had lived a full life sitting under a tree in a chair, and a young pigtailed girl laying on the grass head propped up on her hands, elbows to the ground, as she asked questions about life experiences and the elderly woman patiently replied.

Anyway, as time went on, there were many advices I gave her based on my own experiences, many fun snippets of my life that I shared with her – the ups and the downs, and some guidances I gave her – either for or against whatever it was that she wanted to do.

What I did realize from these encounters was that she wasn’t the only person processing and learning from our interactions. The more we interacted, the more I started checking myself because I didn’t want to be that person who didn’t practice what I preached.

One night she said to me, “Sayli, when you’re telling someone ‘no’ you explain ‘why’ so well that we get convinced”. This statement took me back to my 15 year old conversation – “not a parent, but not a friend”.

So then what does it mean to be a role model? I would guess exactly that – To be someone who can be confided in without fear, someone who has an understanding of the world, has experiences of the world, leading by example or from experience while ALSO being able to explain why… not just what.

Not a parent but not a friend… like a parent and like a friend.

And I said to her, “One day I’ll have kids who will be old enough to face various forks in life… and that day perhaps you’ll be able to give them the type of guidance that I am now giving you”

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