Mental Model

Our identity is an invisible force that shapes how we feel about ourselves, how we show up, and what we are capable of achieving. As we wander through life, our identity can become enmeshed by the roles we play in life. A challenging day at work can leave us emotionally upset and impact how we feel about ourselves. Understand that these roles do not fully define our identity. Create and enforce a boundary around your identity to protect the roles you play from penetrating your inner peace and happiness.


    In product management, a persona (or role) is used to establish a shared understanding of the user for a product including who they are, what they need, their motivations, and their frustrations. In addition to characteristics, a person has a particular set of jobs to do and problems to solve.

    Each of us generally plays multiple roles in a typical day.

    For example, here are a few of my roles:

    • Father – I guide and provide for my kids.
    • Product Leader – I envision, build, and market software.
    • Career Coach – I mentor people to help them to develop their capabilities and achieve goals.
    • Technology Consultant – I help people learn and apply technology to their online business.
    • Volunteer – I donate time and expertise to a non-profit organization.

    To craft a holistic career strategy that integrates seamlessly with our personal life, internalizing these different roles is important. You run the risk of having roles conflict with one another if you are not conscious of the needs, jobs, and expectations that others have of them.

    Our career is one part of our life story. Manage your career in that broader context to bring balance and fulfillment across all of the roles you play in life.

    For example, if your work role required extensive travel and your parent role required time and jobs at home, then there is a high chance for conflict and problems to emerge over time.

    With a clear understanding of our roles, we can:

    • Develop a deeper state of empathy for the people that engage with one of our roles. For example, our kids or spouse when you are a parent.
    • Select work opportunities that minimize conflict between these roles.
    • Understand the expectations that others have of us. This will help our self-awareness too.
    • Plan a career roadmap that leverages the interlinking of these roles.
    • Plan a work routine that does its best to serve all roles. This is especially the case when you have responsibilities to other people such as children, and older parents.
    • Describe ourselves holistically by the multiple roles we have in life, and not the job we hold.

    It is also imperative that we understand our identity – our self – independent of the roles we play in life. We need to protect our identity and self-worth, regardless of the failures we may experience while performing those roles. A strong identity can also influence how successful we are in the role we play.

    Identity-Role Theory

    In 2020, I was trained in the Sandler sales training methodology. The curriculum included a concept called I-R Theory. Above we discussed the concept of roles. Identity is simply what is left after you take all of the roles you play away. IR theory states that when you give a 1-10 score of how you are feeling about the I-side (your identity), you are going to operate +/- 1 on the R-side (the roles you play). The core idea is that by giving focus to improving your identity, you will see higher performance in the roles you play throughout work and life.

    The key is separating your identity from your roles. In other words, who you are is different than what you do. This psychological separation can be helpful when we experience challenges or failures in those roles play and will prevent those from negatively impacting our identity and self-worth.


    1 – Identify your roles.

    Think about where and how you spent your time during a typical day or week.

    Think broadly across your work and personal life.

    Give a name to each role you play.

    2 – Describe your roles.

    Describe their interests.

    Describe their “jobs” – what things they need to deliver on or problems to be solved.

    Describe the expectations that others have of them.

    Describe their future state aspirations.

    Describe their pain points, frustrations, and needs.

    Describe their current and desired behaviors.

    Describe their other attributes such as philosophies, values, and goals.

    3 – Internalize your roles.

    Find a simple way to keep these roles in mind as you live each day.

    Give each role center stage and sole focus when you play that role – multitasking does not work.

    Allocate time in your calendar similar to work for your non-work roles.

    Journal to reflect on your roles to capture what is going well and what may need to be changed.

    4 – Strengthen your identity.

    Find space to emotionally disconnect from your roles.

    Embrace the goodness of who you are.

    Love yourself and embrace the shortness of life.

    Read, reflect, and journal to deepen the awareness of your identity.

    5 – Separate and protect your identity.

    Let go of the failures you experienced in your roles – we are human.

    Embrace the growth mindset to see challenges as opportunities.

    You are the sole owner of the precious space that your identity occupies.

    Do not let anyone in – protect it at all costs.

    Experiment With This

    • Write down the roles you play at work and in your life. Is there a role in my life that is not living to its potential? If so, what are the issues? What actions could I take to improve the outcomes I desire for each role? Answers to these questions may identify changes you need to make in regard to your work schedule, priorities, or even a job change if there is a conflict between the roles you play. For example, if your job requires extensive travel, this may be creating issues for your parent role.
    • Look into the near future to identify new roles you may play. For example, you may seek to become a parent or entrepreneur. Think about what type of work opportunities you need to right now to make that transition happen.
    • Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are “doing a job for” to deepen your understanding of their needs and expectations. You may be projecting what you want from a relationship and assume it’s what they want too. For example, if you have a partner, use open and honest discussions to shape the needs and expectations you have of each other. What are the expectations that important relationships have of me in a particular role? Do I need to reset expectations that others have of me (for a role I am playing)?


    Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It by Marshall Goldsmith (Chapter Four – Identity: Who Do You Think You Are?)

    How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen (Chapter Six – What Job Did You Hire That Milkshake For?)

    The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

    Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony De Mello

    Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (Chapter 2 – How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (And Vice Versa))