A week ago, the world’s spotlight turned on Hollywood for the Oscars. Personally, I love the Academy Awards because I love cinema. The moving stories and brilliant performances always captured my imagination as a child, and the magic of cinema still does to this day. As I watched the ceremony last Sunday night on the couch next to my lovely wife, I was struck particularly by the awards that celebrated the actors themselves. Here were the best in the business being applauded for their work at portraying a role so incredibly realistically, but then this thought struck me: we are all actors, aren’t we? We all play different roles in our lives. For example, while watching the ceremony with my wife, I was playing the role of husband. I was playing the role of daddy to my sleeping daughter upstairs. The list of roles in my life goes on and on, and I think we all would be well served to shine a spotlight into our lives in this way to see just what we can illuminate!
You may be surprised at what you find out about yourself when you examine the roles you are playing. For me, an image always comes to mind when I think about acting, and that image is a mask. As an English teacher, I always taught my students the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar to emphasize that we all assume different roles in different areas of our lives. Human beings tend to be social chameleons, capable of adapting their personas to the situations they are thrust into, and it is truly fascinating that we have such an ability.
Some masks we wear serve us well. We wear a brave face when our children fall even if it breaks our hearts on the inside. We are strong for our friends when we hear of their troubles, giving them the support they need to pull through. These roles are beneficial to us because they are authentic, but what about when the masks we wear hold us back? Think about a time when you’ve smiled through a situation that really made you want to cry, or perhaps it was nodding along in agreement to a plan you knew you weren’t comfortable with. When we play these roles, we are suppressing our true selves, and that can lead to both short and long term negative effects. The longer we play roles that don’t serve us, the more unhappy and conflicted we become. The human body craves harmony, and we are at our best when we are playing roles that are true to us and help us be the people we want to be while doing what we want to do!
A major part of my life coaching is helping the people that I work with eliminate the negative masks in their lives and focus on maintaining or creating the positive ones. As I said earlier, I truly believe that we function and feel our best when our actions are in full alignment with our values, and when we act roles that throw off that alignment, we see those negative parts of life rear their ugly heads: stress, anxiety, unhappiness, boredom, etc. When we live under these conditions, no one wants to come to the performance that is your life. The seats will remain empty, because no one wants to watch a false act. Ironically, the roles you are playing in these moments may very well be ones you think you need to play in order to keep you and those around you happy, but in reality, you are actually driving them out of your theater, out of your life.
So what can you do?
Put the work in and list out all of the different roles you play. Then, sort them into two columns – one for the roles that serve you and one for the roles that don’t. Gaining this clarity is the first step into seeing new paths to climb higher in life and reach those next peaks. It may not be easy, though, and if you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to bring in a partner. A life coach working with you behind the scenes can help you see what roles are helping you move forward, which ones are holding you back, and which ones need to be amended or created to bring about even more success in your life. Once you reach this harmony between your roles and your goals, you’ll find yourself in the spotlight on stage in your packed theater. The only thing left for you to do will be to bask in the applause before moving on to your next act!