Role Play

There’s an exciting new development in our two-person household: We’re getting a puppy! The Noble Reverend Leonard Tollefson (you can call him Lenny) will become an official resident of our Humboldt Park loft in just over two weeks. The decision, however, has not been a quick or easy one, and it has surfaced countless issues around money and time. It’s required Dan and I to honestly assess our own level of preparation as future puppy parents.

This back and forth seems to expose the perceived disparity between us: Dan, the data nerd who saves money and plans for the future, is the “practical” one. I, the life coach who has made a career out of all things “non-traditional,” is the dreamer. A tale as old as time.

This type of classification is cute in theory—we could easily say that we just “balance each other out,” or that our differences are what make us great. But, ever the independent feminist (and a little bit of anarchist), I refuse to believe that I’m less capable of any one thing in particular, or that my chosen partner is incapable, for that matter. Because here’s the thing: This “dreamer” earned a 3.9 GPA during undergrad as a D-I student athlete, while she had a job, and while her mother battled cancer, passing away her senior year. This “romantic” has also made rent and paid bills on time for her entire adult life. And our “practical” friend? Well, he chose to major in English literature, despite a lawyer-heavy cast of family and friends. The practical one left a near decade-long teaching career (and pension) to pursue a costly Master’s program. You see what I’m getting at here? Neither one of us is just one thing.

And, lovely readers, neither are you!

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it? Knowing that you have the ability to be whatever you choose. But it comes with a caveat: if you want to live a life where your personality and style are dynamic and fluid, then you also need to treat those around you with the same understanding.

So how does this play out for me and Dan? Let’s say he and I are brainstorming what Lenny’s living space might look like in our humble one-bedroom apartment. Keep in mind that aesthetic is important to us (well, me). But so is cleanliness (to him). My first reaction is to take over. Not to toot my own horn, but I like to think I have an eye for design. I deeply enjoy lifestyle projects. This sort of thing is right up my alley. But is this a situation where whatever I say goes? Of course not.

And what if we want to make a decision about planning for the future, or our finances, or anything up Dan’s “practical” lane? Are my lips sealed? Not a chance. But I also need to let Dan flex his creative muscles from time to time. So in some cases he takes the lead. In others, I do.

By giving him space within our relationship to take the reins on some decisions, I’m also creating space for myself when the time is right for me to step up. I’m allowing our dynamic to be one that dances differently each day. And by doing so, we don’t fall into the cliche version of ourselves (i.e. me, the creative one, and he, the practical one).

This is true for the workplace, as well. Effective leaders know that they do themselves a disservice by categorizing employees as just one thing. Just the numbers guy. Just the project manager. Just the marketing person.

No, the keen corporate officer provides 360° feedback to their employees, looking at the whole person from a variety of perspectives. And the great leader doesn’t simply give feedback. They provide the opportunity for an employee to grow, to show another side of themselves. To be that creative, multifaceted person that we all are. If Jan Levinson sees Michael Scott falling short with his communication between the warehouse and the sales team, she doesn’t chalk it up to a character flaw and assume he’s incapable (well, maybe she would). Jan doesn’t just give that responsibility to Dwight. No, she offers Michael the opportunity to act on her feedback. She gives him a chance to reveal another side of himself. In my coaching work, I call it empowering, not towering. Meaning, that we ask questions before offering advice. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know. You know what they say about assuming…

So, think about what roles you enjoy playing (for me, it’s the creative puppy pen designer) and which roles have been slapped upon you. Think about the roles that you’ve impressed on others (is he really always practical?). Where are we limiting ourselves? Others?

And then consider this catchy coaching term: deciding, not sliding. Many of us “slide” into the next phase of our lives because it feels like the role that society has decided we’ll play: I’ll get married. We’ll buy this house. We’ll have these kids. I’ll take this job. A laundry list of items on a checklist that, if we’re not careful, we find piled upon us almost unknowingly. If you could decide for just one week what your role would be, what side of yourself you haven’t given enough recognition, what would you choose? How would your life be different because of this?

As for Dan and me, we’ve got some decisions ahead of us. I suppose I’ll let him design Leonard’s living quarters if he really wants to. And then he can let me start crunching the numbers for Lenny’s puppy university classes. I can be quite practical, after all.