How Social Roles Can Determine Your Success

People take on roles for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because it’s what is expected of you. Other times it’s because you think it will help you get ahead. If you’re playing a role that doesn’t suit your natural talents, you could be undermining your own success.

When people think of playing a role they usually imagine taking a part in a stage production or starring in a blockbuster movie. For most of us, though, those kind of roles are the stuff of fantasy.

But every day, you actually play all kinds of social roles in your relationships with others. A “social role” is the part played by a person in a given social context, including typical or expected patterns of behavior.

For example, as part of a family you’re a father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter, cousin, etc. You’re a friend, mentor or role model to someone, or if you have a career you maybe an employee, or boss, or both.

Some social roles, like wife and husband or employee and boss, are determined by the relationship you have to others in your life.

But there are other social roles you play that are often not as obvious to you or even to those around you. These roles are usually ones you’ve chosen, based on your personality profile and they play an important part in determining how much you’re enjoying life. Simply put, while you can play many different social roles, you have a natural predisposition for some over others.

For example many people can learn to sell, but not all are naturally gifted at being a salesperson. Some people find that managing people comes easily and is very rewarding, while others have no idea how to oversee and direct other people’s work.

Success in any role requires a knack for the skills that support that role, and an understanding of the social expectations around it. Just because you’re attracted to a particular role doesn’t mean you automatically have the needed skills or possess that behavioral style.

It’s entirely possible to choose a social role for which you have little or no natural skills (think Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest”). When this is the case, it’s often because the role has been presented as something that’s expected, that you should do to please someone important to you or that you need to do to “get ahead.”

Personal growth always involves change. Sometimes it means changing the roles we play, other times it’s a change in how we play a role. But it always begins with a conscious understanding of who we are and the roles we play on a daily basis.

Discovering how well your natural skill sets support the roles you play is an important step to attaining success for life. This knowledge allows you to have the all important element of choice.

Carry a small notebook with you for the next 3-5 days and make a note of every role you play in your own and someone else’s life.

Once you have your list, categorize the roles into ones you enjoy and do well, and ones you don’t take pleasure in. Decide what actions to take to either let go of the unpleasant roles or what behaviors you can adopt to increase your enjoyment of them.

Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 27 years of experience in Clinical Psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley. He’s the co-founder of Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents.

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