My Role 

by Jennifer Paros

Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.

                                                                         --  Rumi

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2013

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2013

The other day I was at my desk trying to get myself to start working.  I didn’t feel like doing anything, it seemed, and yet I also wanted to work. Frustrated and unable to neither crack the proverbial whip nor walk away, I closed my eyes for a moment in the hope of releasing myself from this tug-of-war.

In my mind’s eye, I was back in eighth grade, musing over how good I felt rehearsing our graduation play (it was a musical) and helping out on the production. I thought about Sam (name changed for this tell-all account) – my “co-star,” a fellow eighth grader.  Sam was not comfortable acting and had trouble singing on key. At the time, I didn’t bother much about Sam’s challenges, though I was rooting for him and any possible improvement. I wanted it all to work but more importantly, I just wanted to work. I wanted the experience of working together on the production and I already had that experience, regardless of Sam’s performance.

In eighth grade I didn’t feel great about who I thought I was.  I felt compelled to hide, striving to conceal what I had determined to be some ill-defined deficient aspect of me. I wasn’t thrilled about showing up for life because life seemed to be about feeling bad about myself. But while in this play, I was engaged in the pleasure of my new role and work, and the usual story that so colored my days rarely caught my attention.  

After the play’s run, we signed each other’s yearbooks and Sam wrote kind words of thanks to me, expressing gratitude for my patience with him and his learning curve. While Sam had struggled with his assigned role, I struggled with the self-made role of “ME”. I fought with this role every day because it was not one in which I could thrive.  It was too small, too unhappy, and too fearful.  But in my mind, that was who I was. When I was given the opportunity to be an actress, my spirit had plenty of room – as opposed to the day-to-day way I had identified myself.  For the time we worked on the play, I was free of my usual thinking - and that’s why I felt good.   

When I was thirteen, it was easy to have patience for Sam but I did not have any for me. I believed my disappointment and unhappiness were about my personal reality, the hand I’d been dealt.  But relief was not going to come from awakening one morning with the “right” hair, doll-like features, and glowing self-confidence (as I believed).  It would come only when I stopped chasing the thought storm of moody, plain girl.  A better role would naturally evolve from living from the inside out, from who I actually was, rather than from ideas, judgments, and assessments.

As you begin to pay attention to your own stories . . . you will enter into the exciting process of becoming, as you should be, the author of your own life, the creator of your own possibilities.

                                                                    --Mandy Aftel 

As I opened my eyes and left this memory, I returned to my work and considered whether or not my current idea of “ME” was helping me do the things I truly want in life. I was aware that the measure of my happiness depends upon how well this self-made identity allows me true expression. How small or large, how open or closed, how expansive the role determines whether I find it hard or easy to play my authentic part in the world.  

Every day, we get up and begin again.  We create anew – whether it’s a book, picture, relationship, song, class, or business. But when we create our part so it allows us freedom and authenticity, we create a role we want to play, that’s easy to play, and with it, work we want to do because it comes from what we actually are, not self-image but Self.  

We beat our own drum, we take our own breath, we embrace our own way, we live ourselves as free or hampered as our attention allows.  It’s common practice for people to think they’re not good enough, but thinking not-good-enough ideas about who we are is equal to writing crummy roles for ourselves.  Let’s give ourselves parts that are good to play and then we’ll want to play – and we can even call this play our “work”, if we wish.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at

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