The Roles You Play


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When I was growing up I had a large sugar maple outside of my bedroom window. To a young boy, each tree offers the potential to be a natural jungle gym, a lookout post, or a threat to wooden gliders launched from a bedroom window. Each Fall the limbs on this sugar maple would explode in a rolling exhibition of color as the leaves turned from bright yellow through orange to fluorescent red-orange before finally dying away for the season and forming an easy supply of natural confetti for us kids to use in many creative ways.

Our neighbors would stop by our house on their walks and comment on how beautiful the leaves were, especially against the deep blue sky that accompanies a Tennessee autumn, and how of all the trees around our house, that was one they just could not miss. For the rest of the year, however, no one, except for me, paid much attention to the tree. No one stopped on their walks to comment on how cool the shade must be under its dense foliage on a July day, or how in the Spring, the broad branches provided such secure, solid shelter to the nest of robins that made their home there each year. Or how if you really knew what you were doing in the Winter, you could drill a hole in the sunny side of the tree, tap in a small tube, hang a bucket and have the makings of real honest to goodness maple syrup. My sugar maple had many other roles than just producing beautiful leaves in the Fall, but no one seemed to notice. No one noticed but me.

I use this illustration to point out that like my sugar maple, you, too, have other roles than just your work role, even though that is where we have spent most of our time. Your ‘work role’ may be the one that gets the most attention or consumes the most time in your life right now, but that is only a part of the person you are. Lately you may not have had time to think about the other pieces of you and how they are doing, since your first year can consume most of your physical, emotional and mental energy.

But I believe you have three distinct roles in your life, whether you know it or not. It is an individual call for each person about which role will/can/should take precedence in their life, or whether all roles will be treated with equal respect. More difficult still is how to manage each of those roles without detriment to one of the others. As this is still early in your adult life, you may not have a clue regarding what I am talking about, so let me walk you through what I perceive to be our three roles in life.

The three roles I see us all having are:

1. The “Me” Role
2. The “We” Role
3. The “Us” Role

Let’s discuss each in a little more detail.

The “Me” Role. The “Me” Role is the role in which you focus on taking care of your personal needs. As we discussed earlier, you are on your own and no one else is going to take care of you. It is all your ballgame now. What type of needs are you responsible for? You are responsible for the obvious things like finding a safe place to live, having food to eat, and paying your bills to keep the lights on. Also, you are now accountable for meeting the needs you have as a functioning human being. There are many aspects to the “Me” Role, but all relate to your role in taking care of yourself.

The “We” Role. In your “We” Role, you are responsible for meeting and maintaining the needs associated with your work life and professional acquaintances. All jobs vary drastically from person to person. It is difficult to pin down specifics related to this role, but it basically is related to all the time, energy and effort you spend towards doing whatever you do for a living. I called this the “We” Role because all jobs require someone else to get things done. Even a small business person who has no employees needs to partner with the customers to be successful.

I also refer to this role as the “Replaceable Role” for a very specific reason: in your job, like it or not, you are replaceable. Yes, we will miss your smile and your snappy comebacks, but if you leave, another person will fill your seat doing pretty much the same thing you were doing in much the same way. For the majority of us who work for a living, there will always be someone out there who can slide into our role and do it equally well, and sometimes better, than we do. This is true for any one of us, from the CEO on down. CEO’s retire, die, go to prison, etc. , but even with those roles, a new person slides into the job, and with a hefty bonus and a hearty share of stock options, they help the company continue on. My job will never have the scale and scope of a CEO, so why do I think my replacement value would be any different? It is not. It is a replaceable role.

The “Us” Role. The “Us” Role deals with meeting and maintaining the needs associated with your personal relationships. In this role, you simply cannot be replaced. You are replaceable at work and in your professional relation-ships but in this role, you are irreplaceable. Only you can be the child that you are to your parents, or your spouse’s husband or wife. Only you can provide these people with the unique presence that is you and you alone.

I call this role the “Us” Role as “Us” implies a level of intimacy that “We” Roles just do not hold. The “Us” Role allows us to like, care for and love who the person is and to know what they are all about. “We” Roles rarely move closer than just a handshake and a hearty smile. In “We” Roles we know faces, but in our “Us” Roles, we know hearts.

Each of these roles has its own place in our lives. In a perfect situation, we would have all the time necessary to devote to each role to ensure a completely satisfying and fulfilling experience for ourselves and those around us. But it is not a perfect world. Our life is measured in limited pockets of time, each with varying starting points, lengths, and end points. Whether we are talking about our age (i. e. , twenty-five years old), a life phase (the teenage years), or a specific period of the year (i. e. , the Holiday Season), these are specific measurement phrases that when we hear them, we know exactly how much time the phrase is indicating. What this implies, however, is that time is finite and we only have a set amount of time in which to live our lives. Though there is much in our world we can control and change if we do not like what we are dealt, we are without choice when it comes to the constraint time places upon our lives. There is no choice but to submit to it.

Thus the conundrum. Here you stand with three roles to play, each distinct and difficult in their own right, much less as a combined trio. Overriding these roles is the constraint of Time, out of our control and unyielding in its limits. These all must come together in a way that is most effective for you. You are left with a simple decision: how will you allocate the time you have to the roles you fill? Equal shares of time to all? If not, which role gains? Which one loses? Do we know the cost of each decision and are we O. K. with the price?

You may want to focus more on one role than another, and if so, that is your call. You just need to understand and plan for how this focus will affect your other roles going forward. If you want balance across your roles, that is your call, as well. Again, you just need to understand what this would look like and be willing to accept the pain and pleasure that comes with these decisions.

You may choose to focus on one of your roles or you may choose to incorporate a balanced approach to the roles that you have. There are pros and cons with each scenario, but whether one scenario is better for you than another scenario will be a completely personal choice. We all have different needs, wants and desires and what may be the obvious choice for one may not be for another. But as long as you understand the concept of your three roles and how they can be affected by the limitation of Time, you have learned what I wanted you to know.

Excerpt from Leaving Campus and Going to Work
by T. Jason Smith
ISBN 0-9777237-6-3
Aspen Mountain Publishing
Release date April 12, 2006

For the past fourteen years, Jason Smith has held Human Resources positions in the oil and gas, merchant power, and media industries. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Resources from the University of South Carolina, a Bachelor's Degree in Corporate Finance from East Tennessee State University, and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation from the Society of Human Resource Management.


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