"Who Am I?": Life Roles and Figuring Out Who You Are

By Kristen
Content Updated on February 21, 2010

Who are you? Ask people this question, and they often give you answers that include lists of roles they play. "I'm a mom, a dad, a teacher, a truck driver, a kid, etc." But those things aren't who you are. They're what you do. They are the roles you play in life.

What Is a Life Role?

Imagine that you are an actor. In one movie, you may play a dedicated carpenter following the American dream. In another movie, you may play grumpy police officer looking for love. In a long television series, you may play a the goofy cousin who makes everyone laugh. In a short commercial, you might play a stressed out employee picking up the phone to call a a local school to start on your path to a new career. You may even play an extra, somebody who walks around in the background of a scene, going about their day but never getting a chance to say any lines to get attention from the audience.

In every production, big or small, you, the actor, play a character, and if done well, your audience will believe your performance so much that they might actually think of you as that character every time they see your face. But the roles you play aren't who you really are. In reality, you are the actor, not the characters.

Life is a play, and you are the starring actor. Every person has many roles to play in life. Sometimes we play roles simultaneously. Other times we must cease playing one or more roles to start the next one. Sometimes we get to choose our roles along with our purposes; sometimes we don't.

Permanent Roles

Some roles are permanent. You'll always be a member of the human race (at least during your life and in memory after you die). Once you're a parent, you'll always be a parent even if your children grow up and move away or die. You'll always be a son or daughter even if your parents die. You'll always be a brother or sister if you have siblings, even if your siblings die. You'll always be a learner.

Temporary Roles

Some roles are temporary. You may always be a parent, but you won't always be a caregiver. Sometimes you will need to be cared for. Your job descriptions will change. Sometimes you'll be a student, and sometimes you'll be a teacher. Even the hobbies you use to define yourself, such as "I'm a quilter" or "I'm a woodworker" will change as your interests change.

Conflicts and Transitions

Conflicts occur when we take on a role that we don't want to have. Sometimes these are roles we have chosen, but other times they are roles that are placed upon us without our permission.

We may choose the role of a banker and hate it. This is a conflicting role that we can change. In such cases, we should make every effort to change these roles, so we can find fulfillment. It can be difficult to initiate our own transition from one role to the next because we all have a bit of a fear of the unknown, but it is essential for our happiness.

Other roles we have no power to control. We can't control losing a loved one because we can't bring them back. We can't be a surgeon (at least in the traditional sense) if our arms are amputated in an accident. In such cases, we must learn to transition.

Transitioning from one role to the next can cause us to feel like we've lost our significance. This happens when we place too much value on one role. You'll never stop feeling a sense of loss, but that doesn't mean that you have to spend your life in mourning and depression. Letting go of our fantasies and expectations is always heartbreaking, but you can close that chapter of your life, let go of it, and move forward. You can find hope and even happiness in a new role, and it too is significant.