We all play different roles in this world: parents, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, leaders and employees, teachers, coaches… We hope to do a good job in our roles, yet we may fall into the trap of being overidentified with our roles from time to time. We can set our own expectations too high and bring them to other areas of lives outside of those roles; we can also hold the same high expectations onto others; we simply do not realize that we are NOT any of our roles.
The costs of letting ourselves become overidentified with the roles we take are clear: we feel disappointed at ourselves for not being able to think, feel or behave in a certain way that our roles expect us to; we gradually lose confidence in ourselves; we even doubt whether there’s good fit between us and the roles.
As a life coach, often I hear my clients say the following during a coaching session:
I am a human resources professional, I expect myself to be better off than most of employees in dealing with emotions; yet I am still not quite there
Sometimes I don’t think I am a qualified mother because when I am playing with my girl I am distracted and cannot always focus my attention on her
As a husband and father, I should provide financial security to my family, so it would be selfish to think about I truly want for the next chapter of my career
Others will think that I am not professional if I am not able to answer their questions during a presentation in a fast, fluent, and nice manner
While it’s good that they hold themselves accountable for being professional and responsible in their roles, they let the responsibilities drive them so hard that they forget they are human beings. Being professional itself doesn’t conflict with being compassionate towards ourselves. It should not stop us from being who we really are, either.
My personal experiences taught me a good lesson on this: even though I have helped many people detach from their roles and be more self-compassionate, I could not necessarily help myself master the skill of self-compassion. My recent experience of being coached by my own coach is a great example.
“I felt a bit shamed to bring this to our coaching,” I said to my coach at the beginning of the conversation, “I coach others to improve their overall well-being, but I was doing even worse than my clients, sometimes. In the recent two months, I have been going to bed much later than I expected. Even though I know that I need to maintain high concentration and energy the next day, I still cannot be disciplined in sleeping. It seems that every day approaching bed time, I keep myself distracted by many different things. As a coach I feel embarrassed that I cannot help myself with this struggle.”
“What you are saying sounds like that being a coach means that we can’t be human,” my coach immediately pointed it out, “Being a coach just means that you have the skills to help other people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can always help yourself. What’s coming up just hearing that?”
I laughed at myself and already felt a bit released to further talk about my sleep issue.
“So what’s different in these two months that is making sleeping a problem for you?” My coach asked.
“My husband and I have been planning to move to another city. As a part of our plan, he went to that city to find a new apartment and I stayed at the current city to rent our apartment. But recently the city he is now is having a Covid lock-down with a short notice. He’s been trapped in lock-down for over a month now and couldn’t leave his apartment there, without saying that there’s no clarity about when the lock-down policy can be lifted. Our plan is forced to a stop. I can do nothing about it.” I said.
My coach acknowledged my feelings of anxiety and stress. She shared that if we are finding distractions, we are also avoiding something. “What are you avoiding then with finding all sorts of distractions before sleep as you said earlier?” She asked.
“I am avoiding the pain of going to sleep with anxiety and not being able to fall into sleep at my designated time. So what’s the point of even trying? I was probably telling this to myself. So I found distractions to wait until I passed out,” I said.
As I was sharing, I realized that I was not just finding distractions to avoid the feeling of anxiety, I was also trying to utilize all possible resources to eliminate my anxiety. For example, I frequently meditated throughout a day whenever I feel anxious; I went to my own coach with the hope that I could get rid of anxiety once for all. However, I neglected the fact that anxiety is always there no matter what strategy I adopt, especially in my situation which is common for any human being to feel a certain level of anxiety. I was having unrealistic expectations that I needed be anxiety-free. That expectation was driving me hard until I realized that it was an impossible state to be in given my circumstances.
This brings me back to the concept of identifying too much with our roles and forgetting that we are human beings. I was not only expecting myself as a coach to not have sleep struggles but also to be anxiety-free in difficult times. How unrealistic! How inhumane to myself!
If you can resonate with the above story in any way, it’s time for you to reflect on areas where you may possibly have become too attached to your roles. Next time if you notice that you are judging yourself for failing expectations of yourself or others, stop, and do a reality check first before engaging in further actions:
Are those judgements fair?
Have I tried my best utilizing my best knowledge and skills at this stage of my life? If no, where can I improve? If yes, it’s time to let go of those judgements and acknowledge yourself for trying your best.
Am I holding unrealistic expectations and beating myself up for not meeting them?
Instead of judging, what do I want to acknowledge at this difficult time?
What would it look like if I allow myself to be just who I am, regardless of my roles?
I am not asking you to be totally detached from your roles, which is another unrealistic expectation. We cannot withdraw from being a mother, a father, a son, a daughter … yet what we can do is to set a healthy boundary between our roles and our humanity, knowing when we need to hold ourselves accountable for delivering our responsibilities to others and when we need to acknowledge our own humanity.
Just like building any new habit, as you learn to prevent yourself from being too identified with your roles, you need to be prepared for ups and downs.. When you see your old mindset or behavior kick in again, you can gently acknowledge them and note to yourself that they may come back again in the future, then let them go and move on. Do not take direction from them. Give yourself permission to take direction from your heart.
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Lucy Qian, Life Coach, PCC (ICF)
About Lucy Qian, International Life Coach
Lucy’s clients say that she has a superpower for helping them see clear direction and next steps, no matter how confused they are in the beginning. Through coaching with Lucy, they become clear about who they are and know what they really want.
Lucy is a certified coach in different settings: Professional Certified Coach (PCC) by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), Certified Laser-focused Life Coach by the Life Coaching Group, and Organizational Coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.
In her blog, A Journey to Clearness, Lucy shares life experiences and lessons from her practice as an international life coach.
Learn more about Lucy.