If life really is a stage, what roles are you performing?
Have you ever been doing a job, or performing a role where you’ve said “This is not really me“? Almost all of us will be there at some point in our lives, discharging responsibilities that are not really our best fit. But whilst we are on the road to something even better, we can still get plenty of fulfillment, and give plenty of value to the roles we perform.
Think of it like this. There are a number of roles you could be performing in life – colleague, manager, technician, friend, confidente, parent, son or daughter, mentor or disciple. I’d hazard guess that none of these defines you completely. Each draws on some aspects of your skills and personality whilst your wider world gives scope to express yourself.
What would these roles look like if you thought of them as parts in a play or a film?
To some extent the part you are playing is defined by others according to the overall story, the needs of the rest of the cast or the constraints of a script to which you need to conform. With all these external demands, how then can you be true to yourself?
To be a great actor learn the Stanislavski method
Let me introduce you to Konstantin Stanislavski. Konstantin was a celebrated Russian theater practitioner who pioneered the idea that actors should draw upon their own feelings and experiences to put themselves in the mindset of the character they are portraying. The actor looks for as much common ground as possible with the character asking themselves questions such as: “Who really is this character?” “What’s motivating them?” “What experiences have they had that are influencing their decisions and actions?”
My conversations with clients often explore the many different people with whom the client interacts. We may start by exploring what these various people bring to the client before turning the conversation on its head. Who are you to them? What are they looking for in you, and what do you bring into their world that they are not finding in anyone else?
In short, in the great stage of life, what part do they see you playing?
Perhaps the colleague who was originally interested in some technical support is actually looking for an ongoing mentoring relationship. The business partner dealing with the technicalities of difficult HR issues may also be crying out for the reassurance that they can survive the experience and come out stronger on the other side. The various players involved are all actors in a wider performance, uncovering the underlying story that brings all the various strands together into a coherent and meaningful whole.
Once you are clearer in your own mind about the role you are playing, you can reflect more deeply on the experiences and motivations that enable you to fulfill that particular role. Let Stanislavski’s method help you explore that one.
Let a skilful director guide your performance
The branch of coaching I find most helpful as a guide in this aspect of a conversation is spiritual direction. Whilst this particular approach to coaching and mentoring has its roots and focus in faith communities, it has a wider application. I like Ruth Pickering’s description of a spiritual director as someone who is “..like a director of a film who ensures the actors play their part in a way that’s true to the characters in the script.” The director is not giving you your lines or positioning you on the set – they help you work out who the character really is and work with you to play the role as authentically as possible.
Being true to yourself, whilst being true to your role, can be challenging in our complex world in which the roles we are required to undertake are many and diverse. But with a profound understanding of the roles you are playing, and the support of a great director, don’t be too surprised if you discover your inner virtuoso.