We all have many roles we play in our lives. From our faith roles, family roles, hobbies, passions, pursuits, goals, jobs, volunteering, and so on. Not only that, but the roles themselves seem to be constantly changing based on the time, season of life, who is asking, and in what domain they’re asking.
For example, if you were to ask me who I am, I could say that I’m Mark, a Christian, a husband, father, son, brother, author, reader, speaker, CEO, American, triathlete, student, board member, philanthropist, friend, etc.
There are so many different ways we can slice it, it can be hard to get one clear picture of who we are in a way that makes sense. So we tend to lean into slightly different portrayals of our true authentic self to help us adapt to our current goals and seasons.
At our core, we all share the same seven categories of roles. Even better, those seven roles fall into meeting three fundamental needs we all share as well.
The Roles That Help You Survive
There’s no point in having big goals in life if you don’t live long enough to pursue them. That’s why our bodies have a powerful reward system in place to make sure we are constantly preparing for dangers that might threaten our survival.
For our early ancestors, that meant securing shelter from the environment, and developing weapons for protection. In today’s world, we still need to find a home, but we can rely on our police and military to keep us safe from most physical threats. We pay for our homes through rent or mortgage, while our taxes pay for our protection. In either case, we need to make sure that we are maintaining enough money in our bank account to give our brains the confidence that our survival goals are being met.
The first role category that we all share is our Work, which keeps money coming in. Within that category we might identify with specific roles such as accountant, firefighter, salesperson, or as a parent who focuses on raising children to complement a spouse’s other work role.
The second role category is our Finances, which keeps our hard-earned resources from being depleted too quickly. If we don’t deliberately set goals around our finances, any success we have in our work won’t do much to satisfy the overarching goal of survival.
The Roles That Help You Belong
After surviving from external threats, we then need to turn our focus on the next layer of survival. When it comes to outside threats, the best form of protection (other than a physical structure) is other people – a community to help you survive. Our caveman brain understands that we are less likely to be attacked when in a crowd, and so it rewards us for pursuing goals related to belonging to a group.
Our internal reward systems come equipped with two main chemicals that drive us toward these goals. The first is oxytocin, which is released when we develop close, direct relationships. We get this hormone when we make eye contact, shake hands, or hug someone. It not only feels good, but it also develops the trust required to maintain the relationships that let our brains know we are part of a tribe. In our daily lives, the need for this type of belonging is primarily satisfied by our Family roles.
The other major belonging chemical is serotonin, which is released when we feel like we have demonstrated our value within our tribe. If oxytocin is about fitting in, serotonin is about standing out. This might seem contradictory, but it makes evolutionary sense because we might get kicked out of a tribe that we aren’t providing value to. This type of belonging is fulfilled by our Community roles.
The Roles That Help You Thrive
In addition to surviving and belonging, we also have an innate need to get better – to become the best possible version of ourselves. Just like the need for belonging builds off of our need for survival, so does the need for self-competence build off the need to provide value to our tribe. If we aren’t getting better at something, our brains begin to panic at the prospect of being cast out into the wilderness.
We basically have two ways to improve – our bodies and our minds. The first is achieved through our Health roles, and the latter through our Wisdom roles. Wisdom sounds a bit lofty, but it really just means the combination of knowledge and experiences. The more you learn and the more you apply that knowledge, the happier your brain will be.
The Final Role that Helps You Find Purpose
Psychologists used to think that the above needs were enough to get our happy hormones flowing and keep the stressful ones at bay. But when this theory was put to the test, it emerged that there was another need connected to all the others.
Abraham Maslow called this super-need transcendence, but it’s more popularly referred to as purpose. Essentially, our brains need to understand how all of our actions fit into some bigger picture. Whether that’s through religious worship or simply getting out into nature, this need is satisfied by our Transcendence roles.
We Are All Different, We Are All The Same
Now that you better understand the psychology of how and why we identify with the roles we play, you can see how humans can all relate to each other at a fundamental level. It’s easy to focus on our external differences, but the internal mechanisms are the same.
A firefighter might earn a living differently than a chef, but they are both exercising their need for survival. People love to see a baby because it reminds them of their own family bonds. And we all cheer for the champion sports team because it represents the achievement that we all crave for ourselves.
Rather than dividing us, our different life roles can actually unite us. Whether male, female, black, white or brown, we are all pursuing purpose, and we are all in this together.