I have recently had many conversations with individuals who have experienced change in their life that resulted in change to the roles they were used to playing. Perhaps all the children have moved out of the house and the role of parent has shifted. Perhaps job loss or school closure have led to new roles of income provider, or school teacher.
As we find ourselves going through life, we play many roles and wear many hats between personal, family, social, and professional lives, we use these areas of our lives to define who we are, what we like, and how we evaluate our self worth. While roles we play can offer a sense of security, and direction, they are often misunderstood as who we are and what makes us unique.
It is important to distinguish that the roles we play DO NOT make us who we are. We are separate beings outside of these roles. The role of Mother or Father are often ones that tend to consume our identity and while we may take great pride in honoring that role, it is important to note that we have needs and wants outside of these roles. When we let the roles we play become our identity, we lose the internal means of guiding our lives.
Using the example of a solar system; The Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around with the Sun and the gravitational pull as the guide for how the whole system functions. If we were to pluck the Sun out of the center of the system, the whole system would fall apart and cease to exist. When we use the roles we play such as (mother, father, our occupation, or other) we are making that the center of our system. However, what happens when that role changes, or goes away? Everything we have used to define ourselves no longer functions and we find our system fallen apart. Emotionally and mentally this feels as though our entire world has changed, and it feels that way because of how much power we gave to that role to define us.
Rather, if we understand that we are separate from the roles we play, then we create a system that supports change, and makes it easier to go through hard things or rather big changes in our lives with more acceptance, patience, and hope for the future. Rather than using roles for the center of our identity, we use values and core beliefs that create a foundation in every other area of our lives that can never crumble nor become life shattering.
If you have found yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or unsure of how to guide your future, it may be due to overlapping roles and unclear values. Despite your current situation everyone can learn to better balance their lives, the roles they play, and bring more happiness into your life.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who the person staring back is? The feeling of not knowing who you really are as a person separate from the roles that you find yourself cast in. How often do we define ourselves generically by descriptors of those roles rather than by our character traits? A mother, a wife, a father, a son, a daughter, a coworker, etc. These terms describe our relationships, but there is more to us than simply who we are to other people. Is that really how we want to be seen by those around us? Flat, non-dimensional characters in the play called life? Where we are content taking a supporting cast role rather than starring in our own lives? Sadly, often that is exactly what happens for many of us. We become so busy that we forget to truly live and are left wondering where the time went and who we are.
Recently, my just-graduated from college daughter was having an “existential” crisis in our kitchen. Like so many of us, she’s struggling with how to identify herself. She’s technically no longer a student, though graduate school applications are in process, and she isn’t yet working in her field of study. She has described as “feeling adrift.” There is no longer a label that she can slap on to describe herself succinctly that feels adequate. What’s a 22-year-old to do? Or a 32-year-old? Or a 50-year-old? Or a 103-year-old? See, this isn’t a question of age or experience, but a question of perspective. How do we see ourselves? How do we want to be seen? How do others perceive us? Do all these different perspectives align?
I’ve noticed when I pose these questions that people (clients, friends, family) are often taken aback when they contemplate their answers. Often, they find that how their loved ones, coworkers, or acquaintances would describe them is similar to how they would like to be perceived but, not surprisingly, their self -perception is much more negative. Why is that? Why are we so quick to look outward for a measure of worthiness but so harshly judge ourselves, and our contributions, as inadequate? I wonder what would happen if, as a society, we spoke more kindly to ourselves and left self-recrimination out of our personal narratives? Would we be happier? Less anxious? Less depressed?
Positivity, gratefulness, and mindfulness are all ways that we can choose to treat ourselves with more care. These practices can help ground us and keep us focused on the good in our lives and ourselves to help us better weather the storms that life hurls our way. So, take a minute, look in the mirror, and tell the stranger you see there all the things that you want, hope, and desire for them. Treat that stranger as you would your best friend, coworker, sibling, or child that needs a little boost. Encourage that stranger to find their inner passion and foster it. Tell that stranger how much they are loved, and one day, you just might believe it.