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Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles
WHo Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

    If you’re anything like me, life keeps you pretty busy. Sometimes — more often than I’d like, actually — it’s hard just to keep straight what day it is, let alone where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.

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    Keeping track of the various roles I play helps keep my head in order and prevent that feeling of being torn into a thousand tiny pieces. Every so often, usually during my version of a weekly review, I flip to an empty page in my notebook and make a list of roles: step-father, partner, teacher, anthropologist, employee, writer, son, friend, brother, brother-in-law, nephew, uncle, citizen. It helps to see it all spelled out like that, and writing it down helps me focus on what I’m accomplishing and what my goals are for each role.

    It might seem obvious, but each role we play has different goals, different standards of achievement. As an employee, I’m concerned with making enough money to pay our bills and but our groceries, but as a step-father I have to leave those concerns aside so I can get on with the business of parenting: encouraging, nurturing, sometimes disciplining, and so on. Likewise, as a teacher, I am constantly measuring my student’s performance and growth, while as I partner I am devoted to appreciating my girlfriend’s many fine qualities as well as her faults.

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    Here’s an example of how I think about some of my roles and what each entails:

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    • Partner: to build a lasting and loving relationship; to openly communicate my feelings and worries; to plan household budgets and chores.
    • Teacher: to encourage the development of critical thinking, writing, studying, and research skills; to help students develop a sense of themselves as citizens and of their place in society; to assess students’ growth and give them guidance where necessary.
    • Anthropologist: to carry out research and communicate my findings to other members of my discipline and to the public; to encourage more informed attitudes about cultural similarity and difference in my society and in my students.
    • Step-father: to offer support and encouragement to my step-children; to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met on a day-to-day basis; to share my values and dreams with my step-children and help them to articulate their own.
    • Writer: to communicate effectively with my audience; to build my audience and seek out new markets for my work; to manage my submissions, payments due and received, tax paperwork, etc. (Technically, “writer” is two roles: one as a person sitting in front of a computer or notepad and writing for others to read, and the other as a person managing his business — I could call that second role “manager” or “entrepreneur”, but I don’t feel like either of those things.)
    • Brother: to offer friendship and support; to lend a hand when needed; to be an uncle to his children.
    • Citizen: to take part in the running of my society by voting, serving on juries, paying taxes (yuck!), obeying the law when possible, breaking the law when necessary; to keep the common good in mind; to engage with the process of governance by writing letters or otherwise working to express my thoughts to my representatives; to view society critically with an eye towards its improvement.

    Those aren’t all my roles, but it’s a good sample. Making my expectations of myself in each role explicit helps me to evaluate how well I’m doing in each role. Are the things I’m doing fulfilling my idea of what my role is? What else should I be doing?

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    While doing this, I try to set a few short-term goals for each role. By spelling out what each role actually is, I can be a little more specific than just saying “I should be a better teacher”. Instead, I can ask specific questions of myself, like “Are my current tests adequately measuring what I ant students to be getting from my class?” If not, my goal might be to rewrite my test, or come up with a better grading rubric to make sure my tests are effective learning tools. Likewise, “be a better brother” is pretty vague, but “help my brother launch his business” gives me a good idea of how, exactly, I can be a better brother.

    Knowing my roles helps me to keep them separated when I need to — something that’s crucial for someone like me whose primary office is in his home. On any given evening, I might have grading to do, a post to write for lifehack.org, an essay to edit for publication, invoices to send out, and so on. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in that stuff and not to be there for my family when they need me. But as much as possible, I try to be “step-father” and “partner” once my girlfriend comes home at 5:30; reminding myself that I’m not in “writer” or “teacher” mode helps me remember what my priorities need to be when I’m “at home” instead of “at work” (even though both are in the same house).

    But working at home isn’t the only situation that can cause confusion about who, exactly, you’re supposed to be at any given moment. Thinking about roles helps keep you focused on the moment and that can be useful for anyone. Take a few minutes now and then to figure out what roles you play, and how well you’re playing them.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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