Roles and Purpose

Define Your Evolving Roles and Purpose

A man and his child

When you meet someone for the first time and they ask who you are, what is the first word you offer to describe yourself? Doctor, mother, sister, wife, or maybe fitness junkie? If you are a doctor now, you certainly were not a doctor in high school and maybe you would have introduced yourself then as a cheerleader, chemistry lover, or as a fan of your favourite rock band.

The only phenomenon in life that is constant is change and as we evolve over the course of our lives, we have to switch roles sometimes and grow into roles at other times. How do we decide what roles we want to fit into and how much of a choice do we have in the matter? Do we simply leave fate to pick out our roles for us or do we fit them as our purpose demands we should?

Understanding purpose

Many of us have something that drives to do what we do on a daily basis, but we don’t always know exactly what that is. In other cases, it feels like we are just winging it with this thing called life. You only live once and you should never let yourself get stuck in that crack where you are “just winging it”. That is why you need to define what your purpose is. When you have a purpose, you have a reason for making the decisions and taking the actions that you do every day beyond merely satisfying your physical and emotional needs.

Intelligently defining your purpose

The mistake many of us make is that we feel our purpose is something in-built that we can simply let out by willing our brains to come up with some sort of mission statement for our lives. It might work for some who are perfectly able to “discover” their purpose without too much effort, but what of those of us who will never make that discovery? Instead of feeling odd, out of place, or sad that you don’t seem to have a purpose that truly means something to you, there are ways you can create one for yourself.

Steve Pavlina offers two methods you can use to intelligently define your purpose and ultimately lead a life where you find it easier to make decisions and take action. He offers two methods for defining your purpose, which can be combined:

  • Consult your emotional intelligence

When we are passionate about certain endeavours and actively work on them, our emotions validate what we are doing and we will feel good. To find your purpose, you must start by deciding what you are most passionate about. Pavlina has written extensively on how to use this approach to define your purpose, but he insists that for you to be able to make the most of this method, you must be sure what your context for life is.

  • Rational Intelligence

Once you have attained a certain understanding of reality, you may then use your reason and logic to figure out where you fit in. Having the right context of life also matters here because you don’t want to find yourself ending up with a personal statement that only scratches the surface and doesn’t really say who you are. Sure, many of us want to be nicer people, have friends and family that love us, and make money, but that’s not it. Not when it comes to the personal level.

Once you have settled on a context that works for you, project that onto yourself and your purpose will be clearer. Your context might be religious, hence, your purpose would be to uphold the values of that religion and be the best possible husband or wife within that context. Whatever your context of life is, if you are not entirely comfortable with the purpose you are deriving from it, you would need to alter the context.

Where your purpose is defined by your roles

As mentioned earlier, we have to experience life through the different roles we find ourselves in through the course of our lifetime. For every role comes a different set of responsibilities, whether it is that of a parent, child, sibling, employee, boss, or student. We let our roles define our purpose at any given point in time and ultimately, the level of fulfilment we feel is determined by how well we are able to carry out what is expected of us. And when we are not able to fulfil our responsibilities, a sense of failure and ultimately, unhappiness settles in. We wish we had better grades, we think our parents would show us more love if we were better children, and we feel like we have let ourselves down when don’t meet our target at work.

It’s not too much of a problem if we fail and are motivated to keep going and eventually succeed, but it is a serious matter if we find ourselves in a constant cycle of sadness we are not able to break free of because we feel like a failure. Sometimes, our inability to fulfil our roles haunt us till much later in our lives when we wished we had been better at school, had been a more doting parent, or a more accommodating sibling.

The problem with having your purpose defined solely by the roles you have is as we get older and take on more responsibility, our list of roles grows and it can often become too overwhelming dealing with all of them at the same time. You might find that you are not sure what to put above the others and how to create that ever elusive balance in your life.

Fitting your roles with your purpose

Once, you might have been just fine updating your life’s purpose as you stepped into new roles but as you have to tackle more roles at the same time, you might end up struggling if you continue along those lines. To truly attain that level of happiness that you desire, you have to take charge and make your roles fit with your purpose and not simply let life happen. To successfully do that, you must know who you are first.

Take a minute and strip yourself of all your titles; lawyer, husband, mother, or anything else and answer the question, “who are you?” To answer that question, you will have to think of your beliefs, core values, strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. Those are the elements that form the foundation of your being. You might already have a mental picture of precisely who you are, but put in on paper so it becomes more vivid. However, if you don’t quite have that complete mental awareness of exactly who you are, you will have to figure that out on your own and with the help of those around you.

Once you are certain you know who you are, you must build your purpose to be based off that and not solely on the different roles you take on. That way, your happiness will come from within and not from outside. For that priceless feeling of contentment, be sure to align what you do with who you are.

Words formed with scrabble pieces

Towards understanding who you are

Getting to truly understand who you are is not the easiest feat, but there are many ways you can start unravelling what your natural talents and core values are:

  • First, you’ll want to analyse the situations you have been in previously and the experiences you have had in the past. What did you pick when you had two options to choose from in making a critical life decision? Did you go with your instincts? It is the direction your gut pushes you to that would normally reflect your core values.
  • Think of the people you like and why you like them. Is it their work ethic, their behaviour, their beliefs, attitudes, or the way they see the world? Is it about what they do or about why they do it? Also analyse people you don’t like in the same way.
  • What were your hobbies as a child? When you engaged in role-play, what were your favourite roles to play? What you loved doing as a child when you were allowed to let your imagination run free, unrestricted by societal norms, are often related to your natural talents.
  • Finally, think of what you like doing now, how you feel about certain concepts, and your perception of the world. Are you all about conceptual and abstract learning or do you prefer systematic and methodological learning? Do you hate schedules?

Ask your friends and family to help as you answer the questions that will help you discover who you are by describing you. Let’s say you have completed your journey to discovering yourself and are not happy with the results, perhaps because you find that you are too selfish, unorganised, lazy, pessimistic, or rude. Your goal should be to mould yourself into that person you want to be. It will take time, but you can get there, especially when you have loved ones to help keep you on track when you slip. There is really no time when we should stop striving to be better people, so take charge now and begin to define what your purpose is. You can always tweak it a bit later.

Why you must define your roles

When you look through a job description, you’ll always find a section that delineates the roles whoever will be filling that position is expected to play. Organisations have to make it extremely clear what every single one of their employees is meant to be doing and how they are expected to contribute to the firm. Unfortunately, we don’t always take this same reasoning into our personal lives, leading to problems that could have been avoided.

If you are married, you and your spouse must discuss the roles each of you intend to play and what you expect from each other. Both of you must be willing to reach an agreement that you are both okay with and are ready to uphold. Because our roles evolve every now and then, it is important that we go back and have those discussions from time to time. For example, you might have started out in your marriage working from home while you took care of most of the cooking during the week. Say you transition to an office job and you don’t have as much time on your hands, cooking all the meals might prove to be a problem. If you expect your spouse to help out without voicing it, you will only end up grumpy and unhappy while making your spouse unhappy too.

Defining your roles does not apply to marriages alone as you can talk to your boss, co-worker, or teammates to understand what they expect of you. Once you are able to clearly define what is expected of you in each role you take on, you’ll be significantly raising your chances at staying happy. Remember to keep the communication lines open as roles change.

A man meditating

It’s about balance

Once you have a clear understanding of what is expected of you in every role you play, the next hurdle you should be looking to jump is how to achieve that perfect balance between your roles. Balancing between your roles is essentially about giving each role its proper due without letting any of the others suffer. Yes, it is a Herculean task, but it gets better with practice and it really is worth the effort.

To be able to switch between roles successfully, you should be prepared to set times for jumping from one role to another. Say you work a 9 to 5 job, keep everything related to your work within that timeframe. Do your best to make the best use of your time at work and if that means staying entirely off social media and other non-work related pursuits during working hours, then go for it. At the very worst, if you have extra work to do, complete it on the train ride to and from work.

If you are a dad, you could devote an hour of your mornings to making sure the kids are ready for school and within that hour, don’t do anything related to work or anything else. Trying to do everything at the same time won’t work no matter how hard you try. You will only end up getting frustrated and feeling like you have nothing under control if you don’t give the right things due attention at the right time.

Whatever your roles are and no matter how many they are, it is about making up your mind about a time frame within which you will focus solely on that role and follow through with your timetable. It is okay to make adjustments when work becomes too hectic or your football team is training more frequently for a competition, but make sure those involved are in the loop.

Measure and adjust

It’s time to take action and start moving towards better balance between your roles. You’ll need a notepad and pen for this one. For the next week, you are going to note how much time you spend on each of the roles you have to play. Start from what you do between the time you wake up and the time you sleep. So, you’ll have to ask yourself the first role you take on when you wake up. Is it father, husband, or both? Do you go check on the kids and make sure they start getting ready for school? Do you get into work mode immediately and work for a while before going to check on the children? If you are in father mode between 6:30 and 7:00, write it down.

At the end of the week, work out the percentage of your time spent in each role and put it in a pie chart if you like. Ask yourself whether you are satisfied with the amount of time you are giving each role. Would you like to give less time to work and more to being a father? Decide how much time you would like to take from certain roles and give to other roles, then make a timetable you will stick to. You can always repeat the exercise later and make adjustments as needed.

What happens when you don’t like your roles?

When you take on a role you are not interested in having, whether you chose it for yourself or had it forced on you, you will find yourself in a conflict. In some cases, we can change our role and transition to something we are more comfortable with, for example, in the case of careers. The more difficult pill to swallow is when we cannot transition from our role, perhaps because a loved one dies. In times like that, you must call on your true self, accept your role and allow yourself to be happy.