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When I was young, I loved playing pretend games. As a child, pretend games opened up the universe of play no matter what we had as the toy. Tennis racquets made the best machine guns as a kid. We could grab one of those and wipe out all the bad guys in just a second. Of course, all the sound effects came from me as I was shooting. Get a bunch of kids together and let them “shoot” a pretend machine gun and you will get all kinds of sounds. However, I think my machine gun sound was spot on!
For many us as men growing up, we still actively play pretend. We begin to live life and move into new roles as adults. We become a husband, son-in-law, dad, worker, etc… These all bring their own pressures and expectations into our lives. We move into the pretend roles when we are not really sure who we are, so we start “acting” the way we think we are supposed to in each of the roles. The problem that rises up from this is personal exhaustion. Working hard at our roles brings exhaustion so we eventually stop. Sometimes this happens when men hit the classic mid-life crisis or when they suddenly just leave everything or engage in crazy life-destructing behavior. Playing pretend does catch up to us, so we need to make sure we do not just play a role.
Roles vs Character
We all function in roles, but we do not have to become that role. Our focus is to be a character who functions within the role. The difference is very important. To be a character means we know who we are and can be authentic within our many roles. When we live always pleasing others, we get really good at doing what other people like but never really know what we like. Our opinions get placed in the backseat as we fill the role we are supposed to play.
Becoming a real character means learning yourself and how you think and feel. For many men, this is incredibly difficult because they have never been allowed to live authentically. They have been trained to live with a mask on and they never learn how to take it off. The danger becomes when a man who is filling many roles suddenly pulls the mask off. His abrupt change of personality and actions can shock all who know him and live with him.
Masks vs Me
When we live a life of pretend and only move from role to role as men, we never develop our own character and a foundational set of ideas to live by every day. We think we can manage the many roles and are usually pretty good at it. However, when the mask slips off, our family and friends see a new shocking side of us. Playing pretend roles add more stress to the normal stress of roles in our life. We need to focus on being a character who functions in roles and not just a pretend role player.
To be a character means to start asking ourselves some tough questions. To begin to wrestle with what we really think and really believe. One of the best ways to do this can be finding a mentor to help. Find an older man who is farther along on the journey than you and ask him to help you out. Sometimes these conversations can get raw and real, but they will help us find our true character instead of just playing a role. There is no satisfaction in roles because we never feel like those roles are us. We always have that voice in the back of our mind telling us we are an imposter. We need to find our “me.” We need to discover and develop our own character.
Playing pretend as a child is fun. It helps us develop our imaginations and gives us the power to dream. Playing pretend as an adult usually ends up causing pain. We hurt ourselves or those around us eventually when we only play pretend. Let’s begin the journey to finding our character. Let’s learn who we are so we can pass down that ability to our children and stop the cycle of pretend.
What areas of your life do you find yourself playing pretend?