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The Benefits of Playing Against Type



The venerable Sir Patrick Stewart, known to legions of fans as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Professor Charles Xavier in “X-Men,” lets it all hang out as a crass, cocaine-snorting, over-the-top TV pundit on “Blunt Talk,” his new comedy series on Starz.

In showbiz, this is called playing against type.

Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad.” Julie Andrews in “Victor/Victoria.” Steve Carrell in “Foxcatcher.” Rachel McAdams in “True Detective.”

Actors love to show their range. They crave playing against type. (Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2015)

At work, at home, in every part of life, playing against type is a bit more complicated. It’s also hugely rewarding.

When Mr. Stewart plays against type, he surrenders to the core, the values, the history of a different character.

In work and life, we hold on to our core.

We experiment with the expression of this core.

That’s our personal range.

We joke that someone acted out of character. Behaved badly. Behaving badly is just behaving badly. It may be out of character. It does little to enhance our social influence.

Not a helpful experiment. Try this, instead.

  • If you tend to be intensely serious, behaving with a lighter touch may be how you play against type.
  • If you tend to “take over” in a business meeting, listening more intently may be how you play against type.
  • If you tend to be a very crisp communicator, adding more emotional language may be how you play against type.
  • If you tend to play it safe in social situations, taking more personal risks may be how you play against type.

Most of us confuse habitual ways of showing up with who we think we are.

Hold on to your core. Trust that as you explore your personal range you liberate the hidden parts of this core.

When we play against type, we connect with others in unexpected ways. We energize every relationship we have. We resonate more deeply with everything and everyone around us. And we resonate more deeply with ourselves.

We get to know our core in an entirely new way.

How cool is that?

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