“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It
We all have roles to play on the stages of our lives. This Thanksgiving found me pondering the roles we play in our families, and also those we play in our work lives. This is once again a post shared with my Blogging Buddies Jeff Brusso (“Of Gratitude”) and Dr. Lynn Glickman (“Take a Moment”). Our mutual assignment was to write about something connected to our experiences of Thanksgiving. Being the semi-contrarian that I am, I refuse to write about gratitude, even though it makes perfect sense and is the ideal time to write about all for which I’m grateful. But no, I will write about gratitude another time– maybe February, or March, when the winter snow has turned to graying slush, and the deep bone chill of winter in Chicago has frozen me to the quick. Now that will be a gratitude challenge!
When it comes to extended family, I’m extremely lucky. I’m a Gen-Xer, yet I’m still in the “grandkid” layer when it comes to family gatherings. My grandma and step-grandpa, both in their mid-’90s, are firmly ensconced in their roles at the top of the family tree, followed by a solid layer of parents, aunts and uncles. My brother, cousins and I are the next layer, and beneath us is the layer of our own children. What’s beautiful about this thriving family tree is that is has enabled all of us to remain in our roles, practically unchanged, for the past forty years. My parents have hosted the exact same people, around the exact same table, since approximately Thanksgiving 1975. We have been blessed with no deaths except my grandpa in the early 1980s, and only two divorces, also both over ten years ago. My cousins, brother and I have married and had children of our own, and we hover at around 23 people at the table when everyone is present and accounted for (you’ll see in the photo below that we were slightly smaller this year due to illness).
The phenomena I’ve identified since I’ve been thinking about “roles” in preparation for this post is that this unchanged family dynamic has enabled me to play the part of “grandkid”, as opposed to “grownup” (which is a term reserved for my parents, aunts and uncles), for pretty much my whole life. My cousins and I do bring a dish to pass (although let’s be honest, since I’m staying at my parents’ house, my mom actually buys the ingredients for my contribution and this year even made it before we’d arrived– thanks Mom!), we make some attempts to manage our children (which is way easier now that they’re in middle and high school), and we normally help clear the table. But for the most part, my cousins and I sit and laugh nonstop, remembering events of the past, talking about our lives now, or being entertained by the idiosyncrasies of the “adults” in our family. We aren’t even commandeered to take drink orders before dinner, serve the coffee afterwards, or any of the other youth-appropriate tasks, as those we can now pass off to our own children. My cousins and I have stayed in the role of carefree “grandkids”, which suits us just fine.
I recognize how lucky we are– to be able to enjoy so many generations together, and to be part of so much shared history. Okay, so maybe this IS somewhat of a gratitude post, or maybe at least a gratitude sentence– for I am grateful for my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, children, nieces and nephews, and the fact that we’ve been at my parents’ Thanksgiving table for well over a generation. I know it won’t last forever, so I’m trying to cherish it while I can. The same group will be together again in just a few weeks for Christmas, and although most of my holiday memories take place at my grandparents’ farm, for the past several years my cousin has hosted Christmas Day. The stage has changed, but never the players.
So how does this connect to our work lives? The world of work is also a stage; all of us, also players. If we take a moment and think about the roles we play in our departments, teams, schools and districts, it’s often possible to identify themes of our behavior. There are many different “team/personality identity frameworks”, including this one from Actioned, this one from CliftonStrengths, and this one from One Minute Millionaire (!). I’d be remiss to leave out this somewhat controversial classic from the Cult of Pedagogy blog. Do any of these resonate with you, or can you identify your teammates in them?
- The Creative Spark
- The Productive Dynamo
- The Team Driver
- The Intellectual Powerhouse
- The Maven Influencer
- Strategic Thinking (Analytical, Context, Futuristic, Ideation, Input, Intellection, Learner, Strategic)
- Executing (Achiever, Arranger, Belief, Consistency, Deliberative, Discipline, Focus, Responsibility, Restorative)
- Influencing (Activator, Command, Communication, Competition, Maximizer, Self-Assurance, Significance, Woo)
- Relationship Building (Adaptability, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy, Harmony, Includer, Individualization, Positivity, Relator)
- Walnut Tree
Chances are, the roles you most identify with have been yours for a long time. Maybe as long as you’ve been working. I think the thing to consider is whether these roles still serve you well. Many of the roles on this list are positive, since teams are well-served by being composed of members with diverse strengths. But maybe there are some roles that you’ve grown to resent– or maybe some roles that you’d like to take on. When I read through these lists, I know exactly which roles resonate most with me. For the most part, I am proud of these roles. I wonder, however, whether I might be wise to focus on supporting my colleagues in other ways. Sometimes what is most comfortable isn’t always enough.
Although, just maybe it is. I am comfortable in my natural “grandkid” family role, because that’s what works right now. In the future, however, I’ll probably need to evolve and expand that role, just as at work I may need to evolve and grow based on team makeup and what roles are required. Maybe it’s okay to embrace our natural roles at work– as long as they “work.” I may need, at some point, to find my inner Turtle and Squirrel in order to help my team in these areas, but for now, I’ll let my more natural Hare and Owl shine!
Finally, evaluating our personal and career roles is a worthwhile exercise. What role do we serve, and is it a functional part of the whole? See if a trusted colleague would even be willing to describe how they see you and your role on a team– you might be surprised, or perhaps your self-assessment would be confirmed. Your personal and career roles might differ greatly, as do mine, but I find that to be one of life’s greatest gifts: as Shakespeare says, “And one man in his time plays many parts….”