Life Roles And The Theater of Change
by Amy Guest-Mills
Ready or not, fall is here! Personally, I love this time of year and often find myself reflecting on new goals, hobbies, interests or passions that I am excited to delve into as the weather changes and routines once again tend to dictate life. In my clinical work, I have a unique opportunity to witness how others process the arrival of fall and the transition it can initiate.
This fall, one of the themes that I have noticed coming up in conversation more and more is the need to create time for reflection of one’s roles, routines, and the ever-evasive idea of balance. I think we all strive to achieve a sense of balance or order, and at some point we likely need to think about how we reasonably realize this in our own lives. One of the ways we can begin this process is by considering our current life roles, needs, goals, and priorities.
Life roles have always held a certain fascination for me -- what are the dominant roles in individuals’ lives, how do we transition between roles, and lately, how do we find balance between the multiple roles we hold. We live in a time where we do so much. It seems such an obvious point to make but we really do so much. We have school, work, parenting, household management, hobbies, social activities, social “media-ing”, personal life goals, sport, fitness or diet, and that’s the bare minimum. Watching people balance these can be intriguing. But, even more intriguing, is observing how we react when we are unable to perform one or more of our roles to the level or the degree that we want or expect. Are we mad, sad, frustrated, happy, relieved? When is it easy for us to drop a particular role and pick up another one and why is it easy some times and not others? How do we factor the suddenness of the change and in what way does preparedness influence the changes in our life roles? Some of my clinical practice is focused on helping clients manage chronic pain. In this case, major life roles have shifted due to the onset of major physical pain and often there is no certainty at all about how or when life roles might shift back again.
Sometimes, when our dominant role changes, there is a shift in the way we think about ourselves, our environment, experiences, loved ones, and so on. This shift is important to pay attention to because it can influence how we attribute meaning and purpose in our lives.
In the early 1980’s Donald Super wrote a fascinating article on the influence of life roles in daily life. He identified nine principle roles and four theaters that describe the life space of most people. He suggested that a part of our identity becomes entwined with the role we are occupying at a particular time and that we derive a sense of meaning and purpose in life through the way we engage with each unique role. This idea has resonated with me because of my interest in how we react when our dominant roles are threatened or broken in some way and the implications on how we live after a significant change in life roles.
As we consider transitions and changes in our lives, it can be really valuable to acknowledge and accept that life roles do have a great deal of movement. This acknowledgement, or acceptance, can empower us, or force us, to look at the bigger picture and perhaps be a little easier on ourselves when we are faced with changes in our life roles that are less than desirable.
This is a kind of reflection that signifies an ability to step back and realize that movement is normal, change is normal, and difficulty in adjustment is normal -- a powerful factor that contributes to our ability to rebuild a sense of meaning after change. It can even help some of us make a transition from understanding change as a source of stress towards establishing kind of peace or acceptance towards a natural life process.