Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Taking Stock

Originally posted on January 8, 2011

This phrase is used as an opening to an idea that people should re-evaluate their lives periodically, perhaps as often as they change-up their computer systems. Changing circumstances, growing maturity, refined values, all are appropriately met with a taking of time, respecting oneself enough, to take stock of priorities.

Since life is so complex and categories overlap so much, I have found that the concept of “role” works as a handy tool for tentatively separating things out. A role is any complex of attitudes, expectations, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that can be imagined, visualized, as if it were being played on stage or in a movie. We all play around 20 major, 100 minor, and 1000 transient roles in our lives, more or less.

So the challenge is just to name your major roles, and some of your more relevant minor roles. You’ll find that several of your major roles have sub-roles. Some might be working well, others are frustrating. You might realize that you need to develop certain skills in a given role or sub-role; or perhaps you may need to begin to let go of that role, or re-define it creatively in your relationships. Some roles, upon reconsideration, get moved up a notch among your priorities; others get moved down a notch or two or twenty.

Some roles need to be deconstructed further: Most of the role works well but there’s a certain dissatisfaction or irritation with something: Identifying a sub-sub-role, this little part when we (fill in the blank)… aha! So it’s a kind of analysis, which means simply breaking something more complex into its component parts. It turns out in the watch that this tiny spring is broken. There’s your problem. So a certain amount of analysis is part of the process.

The opposite, synthesis, is also part of the creative activity of taking stock. It turns out that you like to do x and you also enjoy y and if you think about it, there’s activity z that includes bits of both x and y! So part of maturation is often integration of abilities, philosophy of life, interests, relationships, and so forth—bringing together what had been operating in different compartments.

It’s useful to take some time to re-evaluate what’s been happening in your life. It might be helpful to do this with someone who knows how to guide you through the process. Friends are okay, but what if what you realize is that you want to direct your energies in directions that may threaten if not the friendship, perhaps the closeness? (I’m reminded of the song, “Both Sides Now” (by Judy Collins, 1968) with the phrase, “Now old friends are acting strange; they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed; well, something’s lost and something’s gained from living every day.”)

Taking Stock should not be thought of as “therapy.” There’s nothing wrong that needs fixing. Healthy, happy people owe it to themselves to do this, in the sense that it’s a normal, occasional check-up. Really, everyone deserves to take the opportunity for reflection, discussion, and re-ordering of values and priorities. In the olden days it was just eat, survive, reproduce. There was no thought of much besides. In a civilized world, other enjoyments and goals can be considered—but they change, with location, job, children, sickness, retirement, etc. Taking stock may be more like vocational guidance, only including avocations—i.e., choices of activities for relationships, spirituality, recreation, intellectual stimulation, service, etc.

There are periods of time in life in which people find that they’re not really doing what they want to be doing, that their priorities get out of joint. Sometimes they haven’t accepted the demands of realistic role requirements. Sometimes they would do well to question what they consider to be “just a given.” So taking stock is a salutary process. There are no right answers for everyone, no formulas, but it is better to have known that life has been reconsidered and re-chosen than to allow mere momentum or circumstance to have been the only factor in one’s living.

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