I Have Been Assigned Many Roles, But I’ve Only Chosen Few

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Posted on November 15, 2020

Recently, at a socially distant party, I was introduced as Siobhan – oh and by the way did you know that she is an Olympian. This is funny and annoying to me at the same time. An introduction like that usually says more about the person facilitating the introduction than about me. It is a title and role that holds some sort of weight in our performative society, which I obviously subscribed to in order to arrive at this level. It certainly holds more weight for strangers that I meet in passing than it even does for family or close friends.

I told my dear friend Katja about this party and she started laughing and said: “I didn’t know for over a year after meeting you that you were an Olympian. I had no idea.” Case in point. It was not part of why we connected as friends. Our friendships started in intuitive development class. An environment where there is no hiding behind your mask and where everyone is equal because everyone’s intuitive gifts are unique. The baseline for our friendship already had so much more depth that our day jobs and previous accolades were just added flavors we learned about over time.

Although, I am proud of my accomplishment and all the life lessons that came with it, I have gained perspective by doing the work to more closely align with my true self. Therefore, I don’t heavily identify with the title. It is simply something I achieved and am proud of, but if you were to strip me of that title tomorrow, I'd still know who I am.

Throughout my own journey, I have done a lot of work of de-conditioning and reidentifying and being at this party triggered me to write about my observations. Let me start by defining what it is I am talking about. According to Merriam-Webster: 

A role is a character that is assigned or assumed and which comes with socially expected behavior patterns that are determined by that individual’s status in a particular society. 

Sister, Daughter, Athlete, Olympian, Collage Grad, Consultant, Feminist, Immigrant, Psychic, Friend…. the list goes on and on. We all have plenty of them and we pick them up from the moment we are born. Growing up, we observe and learn from the people and structures around us and before we know it, we have unknowingly subscribed to these roles and the societal expectations and status that come with them.

Let’s just take a moment and think about the role of a mother. A mother is supposed to be …. I know that before you even finished reading “a mother is…” you subconsciously filled in the blanks with all of your beliefs and expectations. “A mother is supposed to be self-less.” Now, is this true? Is a mother supposed to have no concern for her own well-being or life? Obviously, that is completely ridiculous, yet still believed by some. So, how many of those beliefs and expectations have you ever consciously tried on for size? Where did you pick them up? Or is it that you accept as “just the way it is?” … just like monkey see, monkey do?

Sadly, we do often unconsciously or even consciously accept what was assigned to us because it confirms our position in our society, culture, religion or immediate environment. We assume characters, like a 1950s housewife, or we behave “that way” because it won’t ruffle any feathers, it is safe, palatable, and acceptable. But far too often, these roles we assume are stifling and inhibit us from developing our own way of showing up in the World.

Honestly, how often do we stop to reflect on these roles that all inherently come with a set of expectations? How often do we describe ourselves by who we are rather than what we do, have, or what role we are playing?  When meeting someone for the first time, no matter if at a party, networking event, or date, the inevitable second or third question that is asked is “what do you do?”. This means that after establishing your name, the second most important thing to learn about you is what you do… or said differently, how you contribute / or do not contribute to society. Given that we live in a capitalistic and performative society this should be no surprise. We are conditioned to value status and titles before deciding whether we even want to know more about each other. 

We assume roles because we don’t know that we have a choice until we go down the path of becoming more intuitively self-aware. I know you are thinking that some people “just don’t have a choice”; well, while it might be true that we do have to live out some roles that we have been assigned or chosen to step into – I argue that we always have a choice in how much we identify with societal, cultural, and religious expectations. Nobody can tell you who you are, because only you can access your higher-self. Others can try to tell you how they want you to be or act, but they do not have the power to tell you who you are and what you should believe about yourself… unless you let them.

This is what becoming self-aware is all about. Who are we when we strip away all the roles and titles? This process of de-conditioning is fundamental in coming home to ourselves. This is how we learn to realize the connection between what we believe, how we behave, and what choices we make. This is not an easy process because our identity is so heavily influenced by our conditioning. This is why for some people it feels like heartbreak when their football team loses the championship. They identify so strongly with being a fan of a particular team, that it personally affects how they feel and behave. Identification gives us a feeling of close association. 

The problem is not whether or not you become upset when your team loses but the problem is going through life unconsciously self-identifying without exploring and aligning with your true self. Just as certain roles stifle us and keep us in a box, the process of reidentifying allows you to grow beyond the limits imposed on you.

Below is an exercise that I assign to all of my clients to help them break down who they truly are at a soul-level and how they relate to the roles they assume (remember that some might fit quite nicely). In the process we are exploring the answer to the question of: Who am I? 



1. Take a journal and write out all the titles and roles that you have ever subscribed to or that have been assigned to you. You can come back to this exercise as often as you like so there is no doing this right or wrong. Don’t overthink it and just let it flow.

2. Then go through the list one by one and write down the answers to the following questions:

  • Why do I subscribe to this title? 
  • Do I just accept it without questioning?
  • Do I define myself by using this title? 
  • What does it actually mean to me?
  • Do I subscribe to it because it gives me societal status or because it is something I worked hard for?

3. Now, go through this list and remove what no longer serves you or that which you have outgrown.

  • How does it feel if I no longer identify with this?

4. Lastly, add new descriptors that are more aligned with who you are today and the vision you have for yourself.

  • What parts of me are not represented on this list?
  • What are the parts I keep hidden because they might be “weird, too much, unacceptable”?
  • How does it feel to acknowledge these parts of myself?

5. Now that you have gone through this process, write a short paragraph to answer: Who Am I? How do you feel and think about yourself when there is nobody to judge you. Keep refining as you grow and learn to embrace more aspects of yourself.