If someone asked you this one simple question, who are you? What would you say? Would you say your name? Your gender? Your ethnicity or maybe your professional status?
You initial answer will tell a lot about you. It will reveal the persona you identify with the most. Whether we realize it or not, we wear a lot of hats in our day to day routines. On most days we almost subconsciously shift from one role to another without batting an eye. I mean really, we damn near deserve an Oscar for all the incredible acting we do.
We may wake up as a spouse, then quickly and without thinking put on our parent hat, once we get our partner and the kids out the door we change into our professional hat, during lunch break we put on a friend cap while we listen to our colleague’s vacation stories. Then back to the work cap for a few more hours.
As soon as we leave work we put on a sibling hat and help out our sister with her upcoming project, then suddenly the phone rings and you have to switch to the friend cap for 10 to 15 minutes before returning to the sibling sombrero. And after all that, we manage to put on a gymnast hat while we sweat it out to loud music in the company of buff strangers.
I think you get my drift here. What I’m trying to say is that we juggle a lot and whenever we step into each role, we act a little different don’t we? We may be a little softer with our kids, a little more square with our boss, a lot more loving with our spouses and perhaps a little more silly with our friends.
So which role dominates your being? In which role do you feel most comfortable, most authentic, most at ease? This question is worth exploring because what often happens when we are too dedicated to a particular role is we create a sense of dependency on this title.
An at home parent is a perfect example. While it is completely normal to become enthralled with the experience of parenting, children grow up. When we put too much of our being into the parent role, it is destined to create some soul turmoil in the end. Because children grow up and eventually we must let go. Some of us become so attached to this role that we dread this terrible day. Some can even fall into a minor depression because their “baby” aka their 26 year old has moved out.
It is healthy and natural for our children to grow up, take on responsibility, face the world and become independent. However, in today’s society kids are moving out later and later in life which contributes to our dependency. We spend such a long chunk of time raising our kids that we can’t imagine our life without their daily presence.
This is where the unhealthy sets in. When our kids move out we may experience a sense of loss. Instead of celebrating their independence we mourn the loss of our parent identity. We dwell in the memories of our children needing us and loose our sense of self.
What will I do now? What is left? Who am I now that I have no one to take care of? We either hurt tremendously from the loss or we try to hold on to them, inserting ourselves into their adult lives, grasping at any opportunity to control them and therefore keeping a hold on to our reign as a parent.
What we’ve done in this case scenario is dived too deep into the parent role. We created a world where we hold a very important position. We run the house, we are constantly needed, we make all the plans and keep everyone’s secrets. This is a very powerful position to be in. Why in the world would we want to let it go? Every day we get to decide people’s schedules, what they eat and how they dress. They need us to survive, to be happy, and to thrive. And we love it! We often complain about it because it’s a lot of work but truth is, we need it. We need to feel needed. Our self worth depends on this. This is our number one role.
Let’s take a look at another very common scenario. You are a trusted professional at a prestigious organization. You hold a very impressive role of Vice President. You have 12 direct reports, hold weekly progress meetings and are in charge of developing the new and improved North East sales strategy for the upcoming quarter. Life is good, pay is good, you love what you do. You’ve worked hard to get to this role. You’ve spent many late evenings and even dedicated personal weekend time to ensure a smooth roll-out of company’s new initiatives. Then one sunny Friday morning you wake up feeling happy and energetic for your upcoming weekend plans when suddenly you are called into your boss’s office and are handed a shocking piece of news. You are being laid off…
It isn’t because of your performance, because both management and yourself know you outperform in every category. It isn’t because the company is shutting down. It’s simply because the organization chose to pursue a new cost reduction strategy and you, due to your tenure with the company, make too much money. Of course they wont say that, but you know. Everyone knows. The truth is, as good as you may be in your role, within the corporate world, everyone is replaceable. The company will survive. Will you?
You go home later that day and try to cope with the devastating news. You family tries to console you but nothing works. All you can think about is how will the mortgage get paid and will you be able to find a new job in today’s market. After all, you’ve been in this role for over 25 years and it is all you know. Anger starts crawling under your skin. Resentment for the corporate world rises. Depression sets in. You no longer know who you are. Nothing makes you smile. You alienate your family and reject their attempts to motivate and inspire you.
What now? Who are you without that title? Who are you without a team of direct reports? What if you can’t find a similar job? Will you move on? Will you adjust? Do you even matter anymore?
These two case scenarios demonstrate our dependency on our roles. When we dive too deep into one version of ourselves we becomes attached to this persona and much too much of our self worth ends up riding this train. This attachment makes it difficult to adapt and evolve with waves of change and if there is one thing that is guaranteed in life is that change is inevitable.
The more we cling on to our roles, the more we resist change, the more pain we inflict.
This messages comes from the heart, from my very own personal experience. I recently had to face a major change in my life that forced me to reevaluate my own self worth. I made a decision to walk away from a 20 year career in the financial industry. It was not an easy decision to make but it was a necessary one. Even after I’ve made up my mind, my heart ached as I let go of this very important role that I played for nearly two decades. For quite a while I felt a sense of loss, as if I was grieving a death of this professional woman I knew so well. I often thought of how hard she worked to get this far, how many years she dedicated to earn that fancy corporate title, how much time it took to finally make that big paycheck, and all the respect and authority that came with this role.
This change has forced me to shed that corporate skin I hid behind for oh so long. It pushed me into the spotlight where I had to face my biggest fears and rediscover myself all over again. It made me reevaluate all the roles I play and recognize those with which I identify with the most.
Today, nearly a year since I walked away from my corporate career, I am more myself than I have ever been before. I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to be wholeheartedly and unapologetically myself. Over the past year I’ve learned so much about myself and truth be told, I really like who I’m becoming.
I urge you, my friends, to evaluate all the roles you play in your life. Once you figure out how many hats you wear, dig deeper to understand which role dominates your persona. When you identify your lead role, I encourage you to ponder a bit on what would happen if this role was yanked from under your feet. Would you still be standing tall or will you crumble?
Don’t hide behind all the roles society wants us to play. Get to know you and then be yourself no matter how wacky that may seem to others.
Because outside of all the titles, roles and labels, at the very core, you are beautiful my friend. Don’t let the world dull that shine.
Sending you love, peace and good vibrations.