Year of Discovery (Week 33: Roles and Sentimental Objects)
This last week was one of reflection and emergence. I caught up with old friends, deepened my understanding of human flourishing through creating an ecosystem map, and learned more about alternative financing models to support more local ownership.
I realized recently that my interests have coalesced around an umbrella theme focused on enabling others. Ultimately, my North Star for whatever I do next is focused on building an enabling environment and world where people can access tools to flourish, be respected as equals, and are given real power to create change from the ground up. I deeply appreciated the slowing down of this year as, without the time to let the dust settle and to explore, I’m not sure I would have gained most of the clarity I have now.
This last week I was also accepted into a 10-day silent meditation in December. While I’ve practiced meditation since childhood, this will be an experience I haven’t had before — and I’m looking forward to what comes of it.
Today, I’m sharing reflections on our roles and sentimental objects.
A big part of my reflection this year has been on differentiating role and self. I used to conflate the two and thought that the roles I played were in fact, who I was. But I’ve begun to understand this year that in fact, roles come with expectations that we can choose to meet or not meet and that we must not mistaken for our selves.
In the past, I saw the different roles that I play — daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend, entrepreneur, CEO — as who I was. Depending on who I was meeting, I would introduce myself as X role in relation to Y person or organization. The expectations of those roles came from others, society and myself, and I would put pressure on myself to show up in a way that I believed aligned with those expectations.
In my role as a daughter, I would believe that ‘good daughters’ do X, Y and and Z, and bad daughters do the opposite. I learned these expectations from my parents, peers, the media and others. But when I presented myself in a way that contradicted my nature, I would struggle because I believed that how well I was playing that role was a reflection of who I was. In reality, I learned that I needed to find a better blend to comfortably meet the expectations of that role while being authentic to my nature.
In my role as a CEO, I would often put pressure on myself and mistakingly believe that people’s feedback and reflections of the business were a reflection of who I was and my value. But the sooner I realized that the position was a role I played rather than who I was, I was able to show up more authentically to who I was balanced with what my role required of me (if I chose to accept it and take it on).
When we look at others, all we can observe is behavior, or role performance. Sociologist Erving Goffman presented the idea that a person is like an actor on a stage. In his theory dramaturgy, Goffman believed that we use “impression management” to present ourselves to others as we hope to be perceived. Each situation is a new scene, and individuals perform different roles depending on who is present (Goffman 1959).
So in actuality, it isn’t inauthentic to be seen in different ways by people in our lives because the roles we play vary. We present ourselves through a mix of our expectations and our nature in hopes that we can be positively perceived.
American Sociologist Charles Cooley believed that our sense of self is based upon the idea that we imagine how we look to others, draw conclusions based upon their reactions to us, and then we develop our personal sense of self. In other words, people’s reactions to us are like a mirror in which we are reflected.
I have a growing belief that the self is more than our understanding of people’s reactions to us. Others’ reactions to us can point to the differences of our selves and their selves but can also be clouded by their expectations of the role(s) we play in their life and their traumas, judgments, and triggers that go beyond who we are. Instead, the self is a collection of our nature and our nurture, and the way we relate to the true nature of our mind.
What roles do you play in your life and which roles take more precedent than others? Why is that? How do you disentangle your self and your roles?
This week, we finally received all of our items transported from Nairobi to Kampala. Because of all of the movement this year, I hadn’t seen many of the objects since March. When we unpacked the many boxes, it felt like Christmas — but instead of the thrill of novelty, each object took me back into a past memory and a past self, filling my heart with a whimsical curiosity.
While my efficiency hurried the unpacking along, I couldn’t help but stop at certain objects. I picked up one of the first newspaper articles I wrote and published in my university’s paper and thought of the person I was then — naive, determined and social justice-oriented — who is still at the core of who I am today, but with more colors and layers. I picked up an old photo of my 12-year-old self who I initially felt like a stranger to, until I looked more closely and could feel in my body the pure joy that emanated from the girl smiling at me.
Sentimental objects bring particular value to our lives in times of change. While moving is often quite a stressful activity, taking moments to look at the objects we carry with us helps us remember who we used to be and define who we are in the current moment.
I found myself feeling more full and warm while placing my memory capsules in new places.
“When we experience nostalgia, we tend to feel happier, have higher self-esteem, feel closer to loved ones and feel that life has more meaning. And on a physical level, nostalgia literally makes us feel warmer.” — Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England
On average, people engage in reminiscing or nostalgia once a week, set off by such things as a familiar scent, piece of music or old photo. It is most common in young adults in their teens and 20s who are coping with important life transitions, such as leaving home and beginning college or new jobs, and in adults older than 50 who are looking back and reevaluating their lives.
There aren’t many times in my present life that I sit in nostalgia. But looking through my belongings today reminded me of how important it is to have objects that serve as symbols to remind me of the person I used to be. On a day to day basis, it’s incredibly difficult to measure and observe how I’m changing, and holding onto a few items that immediately help me recall precious memories helps me to see my present and past selves as separate and as one.
Which objects do you choose to keep? What memories do you choose to be reminded of when you look around your house every day?
What I’m listening to: The Surprising Health Benefits of Dreaming