What role are you playing?

It's not about you, it's about the position you hold.

An AI image of a person on stage in front of an audience

Do you want to be someone, or do you want to do something? This is a great question to ask yourself.

Sometimes you measure your success based on your social standing, the wealth you generate or the influence you have. Other times you measure your success by the work you do, the impact you have and the lives you change.

Often though, you pick a lane and build your career around one or the other. You either want to be someone, or you want to do something.

In a wonderful speech by Simon Sinek, he tells a story titled "Remember Who You Are". It's about a retired Under Secretary of Defense who gave a talk at an event. He wanted some coffee, and when he asked, he was told he could make it himself and use a cheap styrofoam cup.

The year prior—and before he had retired—he had spoken at the same event, but this time he was treated as someone of great importance. When it came to the coffee he was presented with it in a ceramic cup—not a cheap styrofoam cup. He concludes with:

"The lesson is the ceramic cup was never meant for me, it was for the position I hold. I deserve a styrofoam cup. We all deserve styrofoam cups."

Ever since I watched this speech, I've reflected on this time and time again.

As someone who sees the value in building a personal brand, it is important that I recognise I'm not building anything for myself, but rather for the role of which I fulfill. My audience follows the role I play, not me as a person.

You play many different roles in your life. You may be the owner of a company, the manager of a team, the winner of an award or the influencer online. These are not you, these are the roles you play.

It means that while it seems like you have earned the ceramic cup when you play these roles, it's humbling to remember that you deserve the styrofoam cup. If you quit tomorrow, someone else would take your place and fulfill your role.

Design for the role

People who want to be someone are really designing for a role that is about them. They want to deserve the ceramic cup. Success to them is for others to appreciate who they are. They value what they've done in the past and expect recognition for it.

However, to be someone who wants to do something. You recognise that it's about the role you play that deploys action. You recognise that it's a role that has impact on the lives of others. Success to you is in your ability to perform the role to the best of your ability. To have utility and skill that is reusable time and time again.

In doing that, you remember that if you are given a ceramic cup, it means people appreciate the work you do, not who you are. And that's okay.

What roles do you want?

It's time to reflect inwards. What roles do you want? What is it that you are hoping to achieve in the next 3-5 years.

Do you want to be an accomplished writer?

Do you want to be the best practitioner in your industry?

Do you want to be a tech entrepreneur?

Do you want to be a micro-influencer with a personal brand?

Whatever it is, start to think about what makes this role valuable. Is it that you can help others solve a problem they have? Is it that you can entertain them?

Now look at what it would take to do this role to the best of your ability. These are the skills you can learn.

An example

Looking at this for myself. There are a couple of roles I want to design for within my business:

  1. To be a successful entrepreneur in the note-taking space
  2. To be a successful educator in the personal knowledge space

For me, these roles fall under my ultimate why to 'help inspire a generation of thinkers and doers'.

To achieve this, I will look to the skills and systems needed to fulfill these. They range from building great software, marketing, educating on camera, researching, writing, etc.

Here is the key point. In order for me to fulfill my ultimate why, it doesn't have to be me to do these roles. At some point in the future, I should be free to decide whether I personally fill that role, or let someone else do it. Doing so helps separate the ego from status. The role has status, my ego shouldn't be attached to that.

What roles do you play?

Today's 'ah-ha' moment is that your measure of success is really a measure of the role you play, not you as an individual. Recognise that status and attention comes to the position you hold and that could be temporary and fleeting. Be humbled. Be someone who wants to do something great, not just be someone great.

This post is part of the Mindset and Mastery newsletter. Don’t miss the next issue by subscribing to get it in your inbox.