Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Bakari Akil II Ph.D.

Communication Central

Role Theory - It’s never too late to change

Role Theory - It’s never too late to change

Posted Jan 30, 2011

Herschel Walker wins at Strikeforce

At a certain age many of us buy into the idea that it is too late or that we are too old to do something different than what we have always done. We will deny ourselves the opportunity to try a new job or career; a new hobby, a sport or a relationship because we think too much time has passed us by.

Or we accept the crippling idea that we are too old to continue doing what we love to do. We let our age, social norms and other people's perception of what our role in life should be govern our decisions even if there is ample evidence to the contrary.

This weekend, 48 year old Herschel Walker defeated Scott Carson in a professional Mixed Martial Arts bout. It was Walker's second fight and second victory. It is not amazing that Herschel Walker won the fight. Nor is it special that he is 48. It is not even noteworthy that he is competing in an extremely hard sport for a top organization, because many people get the chance.

Yet, when you put all of those variables together Herschel Walker becomes a very interesting man. Walker is a former college football standout that played for the University of Georgia and won the Heisman Trophy. He then played 15 years of professional football in the NFL and the now defunct USFL. He also competed in the 1992 Olympics as a bobsledder for the United States where he and his teammate placed 7th. But those achievements occurred in his teens, twenties and thirties.

Now, over a decade later he has entered a new sport, which is considered a young man's game and has started over again. Herschel Walker calls himself a "rookie" and admits that he is very "young" to Mixed Martial Arts. He also knew he had the potential to embarrass himself by becoming a mixed martial artist. As a public figure he was also aware that many in the media would treat his entry into the world of fighting as a spectacle and coverage could be less than flattering. In an AOL article, reporter Ben Fowlkes provides a quote from Herschel Walker:

"I knew this was really hard. I think there are so many people taking this as a joke. But I knew, all the athletes who think they could just step into this, that's crazy. These guys are serious. They put the time in, and you've got to respect that. When I came into the gym, I was a rookie again. I didn't have a black belt in Taekwondo. I didn't have a Heisman Trophy. I had to mop the floors and earn my stripes all over again."

Walker was right. In fact, before his first fight, his foray into the sport had been labeled as a "freak show." But Herschel Walker took the plunge and endured the changes he needed to make in order to become a professional Mixed Martial Artist.

How many of us would take a chance like that?

According to Role theory, we all ‘play' roles in life similar to characters in a play. These roles (or should I say rules) govern our behavior and determine how we will interact with family members, in our personal relationships and in our dealings at work, school and society at large. These roles are often accepted willingly because they help maintain peace and stability and from a moral standpoint would be considered the proper thing to do, such as parents providing care for their children or a spouse protecting one's mate. However, sometimes we don't accept roles for an altruistic purpose. Instead we accept them because "that's just the way it is."

As a result, many of us forget all of the positive modes of thinking that allowed us to become successful and gradually adopt the mindset required of the roles we accept. Then we stop taking the actions that make our current life possible or could make our desired new life a reality. Before you know it we fit our roles exactly.

Dara Torres - Olympic Champion

But it doesn't have to be that way. People like Herschel Walker or Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, who won Olympic medals at age 41 have demonstrated what is possible. Or if those two aren't convincing enough what about Ken Minks, the 73 year old, who tried out and made the basketball team at Roane State Community College?

Final Spin

The message is not that we all have the capability to become star athletes regardless of age. It is that many of us have goals, dreams and unfulfilled wishes that we gave up on because we accepted someone's notion of who we should be and what we could accomplish. That 'someone' may have been you.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Pop PsychologyBakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life! You can also check out his page on Twitter.

Also, don't forgot to check out his new book, Psychology from all Angles.


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