So my grandchildren come for Shabbat, and a favorite activity of theirs is putting on a skit. The big, green container from the basement is pulled out, and the fun begins. Disheveled wigs that have seen better days, my mother-in-law’s old gowns that were once the height of fashion, that garish, beaded mistake from Loehman’s that was never worn but perfect for dress-up, a cane, an apron, doctor’s scrubs, funky sunglasses…all wonderful accessories to open up creativity and allow these precious souls to immerse themselves in the world of fantasy, imagining themselves as they would like to be. The sky’s the limit, the possibilities endless.
I watch them play different roles of their imagination, and am struck by the parallel to the way we all live. Each of us plays various roles in our lives. On any given day, we might wear a number of different hats. We can be a friend, a daughter or son, a spouse, a mother, an employee, a colleague, a student. And within these roles, we play a certain part- Perhaps we are the nurturer, or the dependent, the enabler or the needy, the pursuer or the distancer, the accomodater or the accomodatee. We slip into these roles, often seamlessly and unthinkingly, playing what feels natural and familiar or what we believe is expected of us.
But how often do we take the time to really look at the role and how we’re filling it? Perhaps we can start to see a pattern. Are we playing the role we want to be playing? Is it working for us? Can I identify the role, and understand its effects on my relationships as well as on myself? Maybe the role is an ingrained, habitual role, one that I am playing without any conscious awareness of its dynamics and consequences. How did this role come about? What contributed to my playing this role, and what continues to keep me in this role today?
To be a curious observer of ourselves is to take a step back and examine our actions and interactions, and how that impacts us and those around us. I can explore the role and decide if I am playing it in a way that I would ideally hope to be defined. I can consider whether I would prefer to do things differently, and attempt to try out something new. If that doesn’t feel possible, I can begin to uncover what’s holding me back. All this allows me to then take the steps to be less stuck in the role not of my choosing, and to create one that is more authentic and preferred.
There are many reasons we can get stuck playing roles that aren’t really working for us, or for those around us. It’s not easy to break away from those roles. It’s hard to change what feels comfortable and what we’re used to. We need to stretch ourselves to try to do it differently, and that can feel uncomfortable and strange and even frightening. And sometimes our change might be met with resistance from others, who prefer the status quos and don’t want things to change.
We don’t get to choose how the other will respond; after all, that’s their part, and they get to choose for themselves. But we can choose for ourselves. Ultimately, that’s really all we can choose. And that’s ok, because we can step into our role in a more intentional way. And truth be told, by changing ourselves, we change our world.
Imagine what it would be like to feel that freedom to be able to create our roles. Sure, not everyone gets the lead part in the play, but the beauty of our lives is that we do get to be the star. We just need to figure out what that looks like and then we need to play the part.