Wearing your activities like a Scout’s badge? It’s time to take them off.
For many of us in the nonprofit world, our identities are caught up in what we do: who we serve, where we’re employed, where we serve, the fact that we serve at all. It’s easy to get caught up in hearing nice words from others when we share all the different ways we help.
And underneath the role of volunteer, do-gooder, nonprofit employee, etc. are other labels that mark who we are: parent, spouse, child, amazing cook.
One layer deeper are even more roles we must seem to fill: extrovert, introvert, Strengthsfinder label, DISC profile, the calm one, the busy bee.
In workplaces, social settings, and families, we find ourselves stuck in these roles. I was having a conversation with a new friend recently and she mentioned what it was like going home. She had some new awareness into her habits and personality and didn’t want to perpetuate those patterns anymore as The funny one.
Instead of trying to be the center of attention, she observed conversations. And lo and behold, it wasn’t long until her family was egging her on for a joke or a boisterous comment. They, too, had her locked into the role of The Funny One.
She didn’t want to be The Funny One any longer. She wanted to just be.
Labels disconnect us from each other.
Many personality assessments are very helpful in assisting us with identifying our patterns and interacting with others. In addition, our roles in life are undoubtedly important parts of our relationships. The role of wife, coach, friend, and neighbor are very important to me. I want to be known as the one that can be counted on to help, but am still learning how to balance helpfulness with fulfilling my own needs and vision.
Awareness of these labels needs to ultimately lead to flexibility, not a stronger hold on them. Knowing that one of my strengths is Activator allows me to play with how I present that to the world. One of my first impulses is to say, “How do we fix this? What are the steps to take?” But when I do this prematurely, it shuts down brainstorming and conversations; it disconnects me from others. Yet when I leverage my gift of taking action toward a problem at the right time, it is a needed gift to help a group move beyond talking and into action.
If we hold too tight onto our identities (even the good ones), then we become inflexible and ultimately we begin to disconnect from others. The part of us that connects with each other begins in our heart. The heart can’t connect with other hearts if all those badges are in the way.
Remember Jennifer Aniston’s character, Joanna, in Office Space versus her fellow waiter at Chotchkie’s Restaurant? That annoying one was so proud to wear his flair like everybody else, but was also fake and insincere. Joanna wanted to be free of the flair to be herself. Be like Joanna. All those pieces of flair cover up our heart and make it impossible for us to connect.
(If you haven’t seen Office Space yet, please watch it tonight! It’ll make your Tuesday so much better.)
Find ways to get beyond the flair.
Presence and awareness are the best and quickest ways to identify when your identities and roles serve you—and when they do not. Here are some ways I’ve found it helpful to identify how my Myers-Briggs/Strengthsfinders/Roles/Worldviews are getting in the way of connecting with others:
- Listen to language or the lack of words. What story am I telling myself about an event or what words am I using in a conversation. Is it my problem-solving self? Is it the one who tells me I’m a victim or should blame someone? Or is it the one that says, “This isn’t possible. Sit down.” I could also be using language to draw attention to myself as The Funny One for too long.
- Pay attention to where you are positioned in relationship to others. Being a wallflower is a real thing. Are you feeling submissive and introverted, and so have positioned yourself outside of a circle of people? Or do you usually sit at the head of the table, where the “leader” sits?
- Connect. Connection during the day requires us to pause in the moment. With your co-workers or volunteers, take a few moments to sincerely find a way to discover what’s going on in their lives. Get beyond, “How are you?” because it’s a social cue to say, “Fine.”
- Respond. Don’t react. While this could be an article all on its own. Know that there is a difference between responding and react. A response is thoughtful, compassionate, and comes after a deep breath. A reaction gets blurted out, is driven by your needs only, and doesn’t invite a response.
Awareness is just the first step. What steps are you going to take to really connect with yourself and with others?