On NPR’s “This American Life” this past weekend, one story revolved around Louis Ortiz, a Verizon telephone repairman with an outstanding characteristic. He’s a visual dead-ringer for Barack Obama. He was able to turn this striking resemblance into a career, playing the president in every conceivable context, including some foreign films.
At the story’s end, the interviewer asked Louis if he could choose, what role would he play, Louis Ortiz or Barack Obama? I held my breath for a moment.
He chose himself.
We play many roles in life: child, friend, lover, worker/employee, hobbyist, amateur professional, partner, parent, supervisor, manager, leader, follower, victim, defender, hero/heroine, and villain.
Some people allow themselves to get defined by their roles.
As a former actor, I know how seductive that can be, not always in a good sense. Offstage I have seen actors continue to exhibit their character’s traits (external traits, like walk or speech patterns) or personality traits.
And we’ve all known people who find it hard to let go of roles: the mother who continues inappropriate mothering of grown children, the high school or college quarterback who replays early sports success and can’t move on.
So how does this play out in say, the workplace? Most people have a superior or manager. The superior or manager has a certain degree of power over us. So do we change our behavior because of that power? To a certain degree, we must respect their role.
When Louis Ortiz plays Barack Obama, he has both positive and negative experiences. People project onto him their adoration. Others project abuse, safe in the knowledge Louis isn’t the real president. Playing this role he had to learn restraint, like Jackie Robinson learning not to react to abuse, to respect the role he was playing. He learned to play bigger, without losing himself or his desire to return to who he was, Louis Ortiz, repairman.
My experience is that many of my clients overly relate to their supervisor/superior as his or her role in their lives, and their role in the company. Sometimes they define themselves as less powerful. They take implied direction/advice without asking questions about how they’re supposed to integrate it (or even if they’re supposed to integrate it). They never offer feedback. They play smaller than they are, playing the role they think is theirs.
What I wish for you is to not define yourself by your role if it is keeping you small. The world is waiting for you to bring as much of you as possible to what you do in life. It needs you, at your most genuine and true. Just like Louis Ortiz, you need to take the chance to play bigger, and hold onto your identity (not your role) at the same time.
And may you all pursue your own path with passion, purpose, and peace,