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Discover How to Separate Your Self-Identity From Your Roles

At 8 years old, I was an emerging artist. My room was littered with crayons, pencils, markers and paper. Every day after school, I dedicated myself to pouring my talents onto paper. I was obsessed with sketching human faces. I spent hours perfecting eyes and noses. I was committed to my craft.

One day, I announced to my mom that once I finished high school, I was moving to New York to become a “starving artist.” I was certain that this was a key part of the artist’s journey. I envisioned a tiny one room apartment where I would live off macaroni and cheese and PBJ’s while I toiled in my craft.

When I was in 4th grade, my school participated in a special contest. We were to write our very own books for the opportunity to win an invitaion to the Young Author's Conference. Elated that I could combine my destiny as an artist with my love of writing I dove into my very first written creation, “The ABC’s of Art.” My time and dedication paid off as I won 1st place for my masterpiece and scored an invitation.

I had fully emobodied an artist’s identity. I saw myself as a member of a very special group of individuals who spoke through the works that they created. Creating brought me joy and calm.

However, I also had to go to school and cheer practice (during my very brief stint as a cheerleader) and practice my violin. How I saw myself and what I had to do each day did not always match.

I learned early on that my self-identity and the roles that I play in my everyday life don’t always fit neatly together.

Over the years, my self-identity has evolved. I’ve also learned to separate who I am from what I do. Recognizing the individual parts of who I am allows me to find greater alignment between my identity and the roles I occupy in my daily life.

You might be wondering what difference does this all make. If you’re a mom, you've proablably felt, at times, like your whole life is about “momming.” Your interests have been buried under homework help, preparing meals and "Ubering" your kids around town.

If you also work outside of the home, work might have sucked up all of your remaining time and brain space. Maybe you don’t have time for your favorite hobbies anymore. Remember hobbies?

The lines between your self-identity and the roles you play in your life have blurred. What you do has taken over who you are. This can leave you feeling lost and unsatisfied with your life.

Let’s sort this out so you can find wholeness and purpose again.

What's identity?

Merriam-Webster tells us that self-identity is: "the quality that makes a person or thing different from others”.

What are your values and beliefs? What groups do you identify with? What are your interests and passions? Who are you to the people in your life? All of these qualities go into forming your self-identity.

Your understanding or your of self-identity is how you see yourself as a reflection of these characteristics.

What's a role?

Merriam-Webster defines a role as: “a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual's status in a particular society.”

Behaviors are what you do. They help you and those around you clarify your purpose and affiliation with both formal and informal groups. You have roles in your household, at work, in your community and every other group you belong to. Your roles help those around you understand who you are in the context of the group.

Your identity is the defining, enduring expression of who you are. Your roles are labels that define your behaviors and actions in various settings and situations.

Clarifying your identity and roles help you live a more meaningful life.

When you become defined by a role, others experience you by their expectations of that role. Roles typically carry external expectations of how people in those roles function and behave. These expectations might align with your identity, but often, they’re only a snapshot of the whole person that you are.

Your role may be an integral part of your identity, but not the entirety of your identity. When your identity becomes obscured by your roles, you can lose sense of the whole person.

Your identity is the defining, enduring expression of who you are. Your roles are labels that define your behaviors and actions in various settings and situations.

You can protect your self-identity even when your life roles are, in fact, a big part of who you are.

Here are some ways to seperate your self-identity from the roles you play:

1. Take time to gain clarity on your values. Understanding your values is the foundation of who you are.

2. Consider the groups that you’re a part of. What aspects of these groups are reflected in your identity?

3. Reflect on your interests and passions. It’s easy to let go of the parts of us that feel self-indulgent. However, these are important parts of the whole you and should be acknowledged and cultivated.

4. Define boundaries around your roles. Give yourself permission to step away from roles to allow space for the other parts of you to emerge. It’s OK to not be a physician when you get home in the evening.

Once you’ve taken time to clarify your role and your identity, you will be one step closer to growing towards your whole self.


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