What are your roles in life?
Where you need to channel your energy.
Because without perfect clarity about the roles in your life, you cannot define proper goals.
Identity – Who Are You?
Think about how you can connect every single action you take to something that you are — to your identity. When you go to work, you perform in your job role. When you take your kids to school, you are their parent. When you hug your wife or husband, you are the other spouse. During your weekly meet-up at your runners’ club, you are a runner.
You can link every action you take to one of your roles in life and, often, to more than one. That is not to say that you don’t behave authentically because you wear multiple hats. Authenticity is something that we will discuss in more depth in future exercises. But the fact of the matter is that, during your day-to-day life, you use various aspects of your varied roles.
It’s tempting to think, well, okay, I wear multiple hats. So what? Why do I need to get into this? I will be those distinct things, no matter what. Yes, that is true; but remember that in this journey of discovery, the emphasis is on creating clarity. That implies putting all your cards on the table and genuinely understanding what they mean.
For your roles in life, it is vital to understand what you think each one is; in other words, how you define it. Next, it’s critical to understand why you believe that role to be important in your life. By assessing importance, you can set your priorities and identify places of imbalance.
Although achieving complete life balance is not the endgame (we’ll discuss this later), striving for balance in places that are imbalanced is a tool you’ll use multiple times throughout this program.
Types of Roles
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are many roles in one’s life, and if you ask a person about theirs, you’ll get at least two to three answers. The most common ones include father, mother, husband, wife, and a profession. But that’s just the first layer, albeit an essential one.
However, there are some roles that we often forget about—for example, son and daughter or brother and sister. The fact that these roles don’t come to your mind might be because you are taking them for granted, although not always.
Because these are roles that you haven’t chosen for yourself, it almost seems like something happening to you or around you, rather than something that you are. That brings up a good point: we all have roles we have actively chosen, and some roles which others have bestowed upon us without our having much say about it.
The roles of a child or that of a sibling are the obvious ones, but there are others. Tragedy brings roles into our lives frequently, for example. Think about the older sibling who loses his/her parents in an accident. Now he or she might have to take on the role of a quasi-parent for their younger sibling.
Or think about something different, such as winning $100M in the lottery. Yesterday, you were an employee struggling to make ends meet; today, you are a multi-millionaire. Roles have changed. It’s important to understand these roles because, unlike the ones you have selected for yourself, these roles bestowed upon you are different and require a unique approach.
Finding Your Identity
Here are the steps to documenting your roles in life:
- Brainstorming: write down all your roles that come to mind.
- Defining: define what each role means to you and what it entails. (Mental exercise)
- Feeling: describe how being in this role makes you feel. (Emotional exercise)
- Importance: write why being in this role is important to you (or isn’t).
- Priority: set out your life roles in the order of their importance.
Let us go through each step in more detail before you start uncovering your identity and roles in life.
1Brainstorming Your Identity
Start by writing down as many roles as you can think of. To help with this process, try to picture your life as a set of separate but interrelated and interconnected boxes.
- Closest family (your husband or wife, your children, and grandchildren)
- Your family (father, mother, grandparents, siblings)
- Extended family (parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, cousins)
- Work sphere
- Community (church, sports activities, hobbies, other organizations, charity)
Remember that this is a brainstorming session. The rule here is that there is no wrong answer. Let the ideas flow. If needed, use a big poster board or whiteboard to write ideas down. Don’t worry if a role is upsetting to you; we’ll deal with that later. For now, just write things down.
Once you have your extended list, try to combine items that represent the same thing. Maybe you wrote “professional” because you feel you are a professional, but also “accountant.” After all, that’s your job. In this instance, they might represent the same thing for you.
The idea is to narrow things down to their essence. You should wind up with a final list. Before you finish this list, make sure that you have placed the role of “Individual” somewhere in the list. That is you. You must have that role in there, and I will explain why shortly.
I would expect this list to have a minimum of three to four items and a maximum of ten to twelve. If you wind up with a lot more, it’s still okay, but you must reflect and decide if all of those roles are critical for you, or if, perhaps, you are overextended.
2 Defining Your Roles
Once you have settled on a list of roles, take the time to define two things:
- What does this role mean to me?
- What do I typically do in this role?
It sounds a little weird to define what it means to be a husband or father, but go through this exercise. Different people interpret even a simple concept like “father” in various ways. What does being a father mean to you, and how do you perform in that role? What are your contributions and expectations?
Here are some examples:
What does father mean to you?
- As a father, I am teaching my kids how to survive in this world.
- As a father, I am providing for my family.
- As a father, I must keep my family safe and secure.
- As a father, I demand respect.
What do I do as a father?
- I work hard every day to make sure we have security for our future.
- I take time each week to teach my kids something new and to share my experiences with them.
Going through this exercise, you might find yourself stuck. Don’t worry; it’s normal. A lot of things you do are so subconscious, and often unconscious, that you never stop to analyze what they are. Take your time, and it will all come to you.
3 Your Feelings and Emotions
What you do and how you feel are two very different things. It’s imperative to identify the way that being in a particular role makes you feel. For example, being in an abusive marriage versus a happy marriage will raise different feelings in you as a spouse. Having a son who is a delinquent versus one who is a valedictorian will drive distinct feelings in you as a parent.
When you think about feelings, try to put them in an adjectival form, as it might be easier than trying to write full sentences about them. At least, start with adjectives.
You might write things like happy, proud, empowered, and strong, or sad, anxious, and frustrated. By starting with a quick word that encapsulates that emotion for you, you will have a base from which you can expand. You can leave it up to that, or you can grow the idea further. By being very clear about how a role makes you feel, you will understand which goals you need to set relative to that particular identity.
Also, don’t worry if some roles give you conflicting emotions. Just think about being a parent: that’s the perfect example of a role where you sometimes find yourself at the end of a beautiful rainbow, while at other times you’re swimming aimlessly through stormy waters. Document both and be very clear about which one is prevalent and which one affects you more.
4 The Importance of Each Role
The next, and a very critical, step is to ask yourself why each role is important or unimportant to you. That is a vital part, because often we are so caught up in our roles in life that we forget to ask ourselves whether they are truly important. And don’t forget that the roles’ importance shifts in life as you grow older.
For instance, the importance of being a parent might be very high for the first twenty years of your child’s life. But once your child is married and has their own home, that level of importance shifts just by the sheer way in which the interaction changes. You are still a parent to your child, but you have different responsibilities and expectations. I’m not giving you hard rules, just examples.
Use the form to document in as much detail as you need to why each role is important to you.
The last piece is priority, and this one’s a doozy. It’s tough, because how do you prioritize being a father to your kids against being a husband to your wife versus being a son to your mother? That sounds impossible, but it’s not. It seems like something unfair or, perhaps, even unethical. Trust me; it’s not.
And, yes, ranking your life’s roles is a weird thing to do, and maybe the items are so close in your mind and heart that they are all on the same line. I get it. I feel the same way sometimes. But do your best to rank them. Read the definitions you wrote for yourself above, go over the feelings and their meaning and the importance, and try your best to rank the list.
Most importantly, where do you put your role as an individual in relation to the rest? Do you put yourself at the top or the bottom? Or in the middle? There’s no right or wrong here; you should go with the way you feel is right.
The Finding Your Identity Exercise
With no further ado, use the link below to download the Identity Worksheet and work through the exercise. Once you complete it, continue to the next step, Discover Your Values.
Feedback, Comments, Suggestions, Testimonials
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