“Who would you be if you couldn’t be a dancer? What would you do then?” That is what the character Zach asks the group in a poignant moment in the Broadway musical A Chorus Line. The question stops them dead in their tracks and avoiding the inevitable emotions that come with such a powerful question.
On Wednesday I took a rare mid-week respite to head to New York City since my partner was attending a training class there. We got lucky and scored lottery tickets which were second row mezzanine, dead-center. (Lottery tickets, also called “Rush” seats are tickets sold at a major bargain the day of certain shows using a “put your name in a hat approach”.)
You just have to love A Chorus Line as the quintessential musical about what it is like to be a dancer at auditions for the chorus. In the span of two hours the cast share their fears, quirks, dreams, and talent as they put it all on the line for a chance to get a job doing what they love and what they live for.
I hadn’t seen this show in years. I have seen it several times with a touring company, but that is it; never on the Great White Way during its original run. With my new coach-like view on the world, however, I noticed a number of things I never saw before. The question I posed at the top of this article is one of them. While you may not be a dancer, most likely you do something to earn a living. If you are lucky enough to have your work be your passion you are doubly invested in this role in your life. Even if you’re not entirely jazzed by your career, you may strongly identify with this role because it takes up so much of your waking hours.
So, what if you could no longer be _____________ (insert whatever this role is for you in the blank)? What then? Who would you be without that?
Breathe that question in. Sometimes it is a big stunner as it was in the show. We don’t want to think about that and many people have never even stopped long enough to consider it. Is your entire identity wrapped up in what you do? If so, when you can no longer do that, who are you then?
I see this phenomenon a lot in several areas. One instance is when a long time employee at a company who derives their whole identity from their work is laid off. It is painful and sometimes debilitating because not only have they lost their source of income but their identity as well! Another good example is when a professional athlete retires or experiences a career ending injury. To achieve that level of success you have to be in the role of athlete almost 24 X 7 because of the demands it exacts. Yet, in a split second it is over — and then what? Who are you then?
My point is not to throw out depressing scenarios or urge you to strategically plan your life. Rather, it is to invite you to take a look at who you really are. Who are you when you are just being YOU, aside from the roles you fill in your life. We all have multiple roles — such as employee, business owner, daughter, partner, mother, athlete, musician, friend, etc. But who are we at the core? The essence of who we are that permeates all the roles we fill, all the things we do? When you can answer THAT question, then you never need to fear losing yourself in a job, a relationship, or to any transition that shows up in your life. Your core self remains always.
Ask yourself — Who Am I Anyway?