Shakespeare eloquently reminds us that all the world’s a stage and like members of an ensemble cast we each play many different roles in our lifetimes. The demands on us keep us busy and sometimes even a bit confused about who it is that we truly wish to be as we juggle schedules that sometimes force us to run from dawn to the last hours before we fall asleep. Setting priorities, enforcing limits, choosing what is most important can be more difficult than we might imagine as we encounter duties, demands and requests for our precious time. Balancing the needs of others with our own is often one of the most overwhelming tasks that we may encounter and so we often find ourselves hurrying through our days in a state of exhaustion dreaming of a time when we might take control of our schedules and lighten our loads.
People’s roles in life used to be a bit more rigidly delineated. The men went to work each day and the women stayed home taking care of the household and the children. Each person had carefully defined purposes that were decided more by accident of birth and societal norms than personal choice. Sadly the traditions never really worked for many who felt constrained by norms that overlooked individual desires and dreams, particularly with regard to the ladies. Over time the idea of allowing each person to determine his/her own purpose became more and more commonplace with the hope that in allowing increased freedom of expression we would generally be happier as a society, but it sometimes seems as though we have only created new barriers to finding the best life for each person.
Instead of encouraging one another to embrace themselves we have created expectations that all too often make daily life more difficult and less satisfying than ever. We have constructed artificial templates for success that can seem impossible to achieve. It’s now a “you can do it all and have it all” kind of world that leaves some wondering why things are not working for them. We see the so called icons of achievement advancing in careers, maintaining seemingly perfect families, working out regularly at gyms, cooking healthy gourmet meals, volunteering for various causes with boundless energy and we wonder why we can’t keep up with the pace of their enviable lives. Instead we are exhausted from trying so hard to meet the new standards and maybe even feeling as though we are failing at every turn. Little do we realize that the lives of the rich and successful are not always as wonderful as they seem. Keeping up an image of paradise is wrought with many obligations that may create more dissatisfaction than happiness.
Little wonder that Prince Harry and his beautiful wife, Meghan, have decided to eschew the so called fairytale life of a royal in search of something more meaningful. They have rather wisely determined that the only way to be masters of their own fate is to strike out on their own. They will of course learn that living to the beat of their own drum is riddled with its own complications, but having the courage to make their own choices is the start of a journey toward self satisfaction and happiness.
The reality is that no one person can or should do it all. We each have to decide how much we can actually handle before coming undone. That means that we will have to just say “no” now and again if we are to control the aspects of our lives that mean the most to us. The wise person is one who understands what he/she needs to do or not do to maintain a sense of purpose without becoming overwhelmed.
I know that I am happiest when I have an equal measure of time for myself and for others. I need quiet moments to contemplate and recharge but I also feel best when I have done something meaningful outside of myself. I’ve learned that I just have to be careful not to overdo either being alone or working into a frenzy. These days I’ve become more adept at listening to both my body and my mind for clues that I am taking on more than I should. Those pains in my hip or anxious moments of insomnia remind me that I have to let something go. Like Harry and Meghan I choose what roles I most want and need to perform.
My most basic human roles remain my most important and they all revolve around family and friends. I am first and foremost a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. My instinct is to drop everything else when someone who is a member of my circle is in need. Somehow no other task feels as important as helping a loved one. In that regard my role in life is as traditional as such things have always been. Nonetheless, when the situation permits I need to express my talents, my creativity. I find great joy in writing, in helping someone to learn, in being a kind of amateur counselor. I enjoy making the world that inhabit a bit more beautiful which means decorating, gardening, cooking. I must also feed my soul with reading and learning. Finally I push myself to keep my body in good condition, my least favorite role but one that is important for carrying out the other aspects of my life that bring me so much joy. When I feel overwhelmed I begin to shave away my obligations one at a time until I reach a comfortable feeling of stasis.
If I had one message for young people just beginning their journeys into adulthood it would be to understand that life is about the choices that we make. The important thing is to seek those roles that bring joy and happiness along with healthy bodies and minds. Learning how to strike a balance that allows us to weather difficult times is critical to our wellbeing, and only each individual truly knows what that must be. There are many acts in our lives that require us to play many roles, the best among them are the ones that reflect our true passions.