The Chapter 4 webcast dove further into the ego with a discussion on role-playing. When I read the title of this chapter, the first thing that came to mind was acting; that is, pretending to be a character, another person, an image of someone, real or imagined.
When it comes to role playing in relation to the ego, the act of pretending is sometimes very real. There are roles we actually play and roles we’d like to play and roles we pretend to play.
There are roles and labels that we use to identify ourselves (mother, father, housewife, artist, performer, etc) but when we become completely identified with the role, we become trapped inside the role.
And what does it mean to be fully identified with that role? It means that when the role ends, you cannot relinquish the role when it is not required anymore.
I think of the male relatives in my family; men who were so completely identified with their occupations that when retirement came or when some external change happened that ended their job, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. They began to question themselves and ask “Who am I?”
I think of the job changes in my own life. My first career was as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). I remember several people in the field who insisted that their “title” was Speech-Language Pathologist not Speech Therapist or Speech Teacher but Speech-Language Pathologist. You could even tell who was an SLP in certain settings by the way she dressed. We identified ourselves not only by our job titles but by our clothing as well.
When I left that field, or should I say when external forces created an environment such that many of us lost our jobs, I, too wondered what I would do. In some ways I was fortunate that I was at a point where I no longer desired a career in healthcare and did not feel that I had to carry-on as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I was ready for something different.
As a Technical Writer, I felt a little more anonymous. My role as a tech writer wasn’t identified by what I wore but more by my ability to craft sentences and put together a cohesive statement in order to get a message across. I enjoyed my role as a writer (and still enjoy writing to this day) but I don’t think I fully identified with the role of technical writer. I guess that was a good thing because 13 months into that job (and several months past 9/11) my role as technical writer ended.
And now here I am in yet another “role” as an artist. Oddly enough this is the hardest role to identify with because it is hard to call oneself an artist. It is a role I am enjoying, however, I sometimes wonder if I will continue this “role” in the future. I sometimes think “What would I do, what would happen, if I could no longer work as an artist?” I find this is a fair question to ask, to “test” myself on my attachment to this role.
Another way we identify with our roles is in everyday conversation. When you first meet someone, it is very common to ask “What do you do?” And sometimes we then make an unconscious decision as to whether or not what that person does fits into our world; into the little mental compartments that we put people.
Consider also how you speak to and act around people. Do you speak differently to the housekeeper versus the CEO at your company? Do you adjust the way you act when you’re around these people? Observe this in yourself as these “adjustments” may be an indicator of your attachment to a role you play.
Our ego plays roles because it feels that it is not enough (“I am not enough”) and that we are not fully ourselves. When we don’t play roles, there is no self, no ego in what we do. When we can release ourselves from a role when it ends, we release ego. When we give up defining ourselves, we come to life.
And don’t worry about people who try to define you; they are limiting themselves and its their problem.