(Excerpt from the book The Misleading Mind)
Let’s say someone asks, “Who are you? And you answer, “I’m a teacher.” There is nothing wrong with calling yourself a teacher; we have to call ourselves something when others ask. Perhaps that is the best role to play for the specific interaction or moment you are in. But if you see yourself inherently as a teacher (as if you were “born to teach”), then you have confused yourself with one limited, and limiting, identity, and you are setting yourself up for suffering. It will be hard to impossible to act like a “teacher” in every circumstance, now and forever. More importantly, rather than choosing effectively the best way to be in any circumstance, you will always be compelled to “be” the teacher because it’s your “true self.” You won’t act in any other way because you won’t see that there’s a choice; indeed, you won’t see this way of being as a “role” or identity at all.
By identifying a “true self,” you are compelled to behave and think in that particular way. But imagine if Tom Hamks thought that he actually was Forrest Gump. He’d be considered delusional, since he wouldn’t understand that he’s an actor. And if he thought he could play only “Forrest Gump,” then he’d be considered a “bad actor.” Actors get “typecast” all the time, so that they are hired to play the same type of part in every movie, and they tend to have limited careers. Thus, we become “successful” actors in our life when we learn to cultivate flexibility, awareness of roles, and control over the ones ignorance compels us to play.