Four centuries after Shakespeare wrote about the world being a stage and the men and women players, the American psychologist Donald Super proposed “A Life-Span, Life-Space approach to Career Development”. He identified nine roles played by human beings as they progress through life; explaining a role as: A set of expectations – defined both by the individual and the wider society – of a person occupying a position. So, for example, the roles of parent and worker each come with a set of expectations – a script.
Super proposed four main theatres where roles were played: the home; the community; the school (including college and university); and the workplace. At the time he developed his theory it was likely that a specific role would be played out primarily in one theatre. Over the years – however – the goalposts have moved; so that – for example – the role of parent is initially played primarily in the home but may also be played in the school and the workplace as the need arises. Similarly the role of worker is increasingly also being played in theatre of the home or the community Third Space.
Where do these role scripts come from? Consider – for example – how you play your roles as parent and worker and answer the following questions:
- Where did you learn the “script” for the role? Who is judging how successful you are in the role?
- Is the script for the role still current – or have the goalposts moved? How could you change the script to better serve you? (Perhaps just by making some small adjustments?)
- Are there other ways you could play the role which would enable better balance in your life? If so, what are the likely implications for the people around you?
Role Conflict or Role Enrichment?
Most of us play several roles simultaneously which means they impinge on each other. According to work life balance theory we can choose to see this negatively and as depleting our energy – the result of juggling conflicting demands. Or we can view each role as enriching the totality of our life experience. In this earlier post I explained how Separators tend to feel more conflict while Integrators experience more enrichment.
Viewing the two roles as complementing each other can bring about a more positive outlook. But as both roles make demands on our time and our emotions we may need to make adjustments in order to achieve that more positive outlook.
Back to those parent and worker roles then:
- How much of your physical time does each take up? And how much mental or emotional energy?
- Could you change the impact of these roles on your overall work life balance by reducing – even slightly – the amount of time or emotional energy you’re investing in them?
Super said decision points occur before and at the time of taking on a new role, of giving up an old role, and of making significant changes in the nature of an existing role. And that these decisions are often influenced by the other roles we’re playing.
Make this moment your decision point. Take control and choose how you’ll play your roles going forward. Since you first learned the scripts it’s likely the goal posts have moved. And – given the pace of modern life – will continue to move. To be a Balanced Leader you’ll need to shift your scripts accordingly.