As an actor, I like playing roles – the weirder, the better! When you play someone with a strong personality, with a distinctive accent or a certain gait, it’s easy to slip into the role and become the character the author created.
In life, we play a mix of roles without thinking much about it. Each one can have its own look, and each comes with expectations – some that you impose on yourself, and some that you think others expect of you.
You may be open with your spouse but guarded about who you are at work. Or maybe you play the role of “spouse” at home and are more open and unguarded at work. Your parents and siblings know you better than anyone. Or do they? Are you “you” around them? Or a version of “you” that they’ll understand and accept? And maybe with one friend you’re a goof, and with another you’re a listener and problem solver.
Each part you play, just like in the theater, is a role. They’re all fiction, and none of them are “you”. You are the person who is reading this post and thinking about the roles you play. You are the person inside who packages your personality to make it work across a mix of roles. And you are the one who has dreams and schemes that maybe only you know.
Here’s an exercise to help tease apart the roles you play from the “you” inside:
- Set up four columns on a piece of paper. In column one, brainstorm a list of all the roles you play – spouse, parent, sibling, worker, friend, actor, writer, runner, meditator, reader, etc. Aim for 20 if you want to really push the ways you define yourself.
- In the second column, jot down how you dress for this role – buttoned up, casual, elegant, sloppy, silly, etc.
- In the third column, jot down what your voice is for this role – quiet, listener, loud, conversationalist, problem solver, etc.
- In the fourth column, note how honest and open you are in that role, with 1 being the most and 3 being the least.
Now think about the real “you”, the one who is reading this post. When no one is around but you, what’s your preferred costume? When you’re talking to yourself, what’s your voice like? And how open and honest are you with yourself?
Wouldn’t it be nice to dress the way you see yourself inside? And to say what you’re thinking without having to package your words? If you had no obligations or commitments, what would you eat? When would you sleep, when would you work, and how would you spend your time?
Look back at your list and decide which roles are most like the “you” inside. There’s no right way, but it’s important to know that while each role you play has responsibilities and commitments, each takes an effort to perform, and the more consistent you are across roles the less time you have to spend working on that character. You can play five different roles in your show, but shifting personalities week-to-week, day-to-day, and sometimes minute-to-minute takes energy and focus.
When you’re not trying to be someone, you can focus on the work at hand, that’s generally where you do your best work, and that’s organizational Zen.
If you were writing your life as a show, what is your character?
Okay. This was a little heavy. Let’s end with a picture of our cute dog who plays only one role – Amazing Grace:)