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Live Life Fully: How many hats do you wear?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's no question we play many roles throughout our lives -- daughter, son, mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, co-worker, friend, sports team member and volunteer -- just to name a few.

It can be exhausting to juggle all these roles, especially if they conflict with each other. So much energy can be spent living out these roles, particularly if we're trying to live up to someone else's vision.

As we grow up and go through school, there are a number of rules to live by. And then there's the career arena. And the new family home front. All come with their own sets of expectations. Moving on through our lives, we deal with successes and set backs. Challenges and rewards. Recognition and rejection.

Talk about tradeoffs! No wonder we can feel depleted and experience that sense of "going through the motions."

A certain amount of this juggling is natural -- and necessary. If we don't watch out, though, we can lose ourselves in the process. And, over time, that lack of authenticity can result in such a sense of compromise that we can feel like a mere shell of ourselves.

I was reminded this past week by my friend Janet Boyle of a song that really drives this point home: "I've Never Been to Me." It eloquently describes the charmed life of a woman who has traveled the world and experienced all kinds of luxurious things, yet feels hollow inside. The chorus echoes the eerie refrain, "I've been to Paradise, but I've never been to me."

Psychologists call this a displacement of self. When we have so many "separate selves," it can be hard to tell where our true essence lies. And that's not a good feeling. That unsettled tug of "something's missing" can wreak havoc on our systems.

Several things happened to me recently that helped to illustrate this principle on the life stage. I was speaking to a large group of people who were predominantly involved in the business world -- one of my "hat" groups. Although my remarks could have focused on conditions for success in the business world, I found myself drawn to speak -- from the heart -- about the importance of our purpose and mission in life.

After all, that's really what's at the root of any kind of success. When we're able to live our lives "on purpose," everything just clicks. And the sooner we realize this life isn't a dress rehearsal, the richer our experiences will be. It took me awhile to figure this out -- and now I look for ways to weave the different hats in my life into a rich tapestry, rather than putting up with a bunch of loose threads.

The other experience I had this past week evolved around a young teenage boy who is coping with the aftermath of his parents' divorce. Rather than stuff his feelings down and try to pretend everything's all right, he started talking about his need to express some things, even if it meant he stayed in a period of sadness for a while. He said it was better to be sad for a little while, and not try to live up to what his parents or friends expected, than pretend everything is all right.

I was so struck by his maturity and the fact that he wasn't taking the easy way out. Of course, there are degrees to everything. If this boy totally took off any filters whatsoever -- and began to "act out" in inappropriate ways -- that could be a major cause for concern.

Being true to ourselves is, perhaps, the most validating thing we can do. When our internal self senses we're congruent with our values -- no matter which hat we're wearing -- a sense of peace washes over us. Easier said than done, though. There are no easy answers, and the degrees of measurement can be situational from experience to experience or from person to person.

Thankfully, our day-to-day living laboratory provides lots of opportunities to get it right -- or get it wrong. But how do we know?

It's all in the way we feel. We know when we're out of balance; we just may not know what to do about it.

The good news -- and the bad news -- is that we get to pick our battles. Sometimes it makes sense to pull back and not rock the boat. When we're compromising so much to keep the peace around us, though, it may be time to pay attention to the fact that we're cheating ourselves out of inner harmony.

As long as we hold the intention to live an authentic life -- and we get more times at bat -- chances are we'll eventually hit more home runs. Here's more good news. As with any sport, we get better with practice.

And we need to remember not to take ourselves too seriously by replaying incidents over and over in our minds. While some extreme situations may call for rumination, most cases don't. As my friend Pam Steelhammer so wisely says, "Life is like the Home Shopping Network. If you don't get the mallard ducks, you can always go for the faux pearls."

Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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