We all assume roles in our family and social circles growing up, but should those labels still stand into adulthood?
Of all the issues facing young professionals, one we sometimes fail to consider is the tendency to blindly maintain roles and titles from the past. As we grow up, we all assume a certain role in our family, in our group of friends and in our romantic relationships.
You might be known as the “diplomatic middle child” or the “leader of the pack,” roles so kindly assigned by our parents, siblings and friends and then unquestionably absorbed by our young minds. Well into my 20s, I self-identified as a “perfectionist” without ever stopping to actually think if that truly described who I was. That’s who I was growing up, so that’s who I assumed I was as an adult.
As social animals, we create roles and titles to make sense and order out of our complicated social circles. We know little outside the dynamics of our family and small social group when we’re young, so it seems there is no other option than who we are in those groups. Our roles become second-nature, a given, in our lives.
Then a funny thing happens: We grow up and strike out on our own.
Suddenly, we have the opportunity to see the world through a new set of eyes, with a new set of rules and new groups surrounding us. It starts to make us question the things we knew so surely of ourselves. (“Am I really that diplomatic?” )
It’s a strange and potentially unnerving sensation to really look at what we’ve thought to be unquestionably true and realize it may not fit anymore. It’s also empowering to realize that what you’ve been and done in the past does not dictate who you can be in the future.
So, how do you break free from old roles and take on new roles that fit and serve who you are now? You simply declare it.
Four steps to declaring who you really are:
Step 1: Identify the roles and titles you have unquestionably maintained for yourself
What are some words you use to describe yourself that may just be a carryover from childhood? Examples could include: diplomatic, perfectionist, quiet, loud, sharp, judgmental, analytical, stubborn, nervous, silly, forgotten, leader, follower, etc.
Step 2: Decide if those roles and titles are:
- Accurate. Do you truly see yourself in that way? Don’t worry about what other people think; they can have their opinions. This is about you.
- Serving who you are and who you want to be. Does the role or title currently serve you? Will it help you reach your goals?
Step 3: Identify who you want to be
What roles or titles would you like to use to describe yourself? How would you like to be viewed by others—in your career, in your entrepreneurial ventures, socially, etc.? Remember: it’s your choice.
Step 4: Keep what you want; leave the rest!
At this point, you get to leave the past in the past and move forward with a repertoire of titles and roles that serve who you are and who you want to be.
Don’t forget that it can be quite difficult to separate yourself from the past. Many times, family and friends from your past hang on to how they see you. That’s okay; those are their opinions, and nothing more.
From this point forward, practice self-identifying in your new roles. If you have a setback or struggle because of pressure from old friends or family, simply remember this exercise: place “WHERE IS IT WRITTEN….” in front of any of your old roles or titles.
For example, if you’re considered the “responsible firstborn” by your entire family, but you’ve decided to be less risk-averse, your parents may be shocked when you decide to leave the comforts of the cubical and start your dream business. They may even be upset. That’s okay. If you feel self-doubt or concern creeping in, simply think to yourself, “WHERE IS IT WRITTEN that I always have to play it safe?” You will soon realize it’s not written anywhere but is simply a pervasive belief that you can leave in the past. Mom and dad can have their opinions, but you know who you are and what you want for your life.
It may feel empowering, nerve wracking and a little confusing at first, but taking the time to decide who you are and who you want to be will pay dividends. Your life and your career will benefit greatly when you leave old, non-constructive titles in the past and fully step into your new self.
Steph Gordon (a.k.a. The Side Hustle Coach) helps Gen Y cubicle dwellers start their own dream business while working their 9-to-5. Join Steph’s Insider List for weekly side business strategies and advice delivered straight to your inbox!