When did you begin fearing to show your real self to the world? I don’t mean the ugly thoughts that sometimes flit through your mind, but the light and beautiful you? The effervescent parts of yourself that also make you who you are? What caused those parts to live in fear of being seen? And, what might happen if you let go of fear, and allowed your sweet and lovely authentic self to shine through?
The Masks We Wear
When I worked with the military, many of the men I worked with told me that guys often wear a mask. Thus, the mask was whatever you wanted to show the world. Significantly, for a lot of men, it’s a tough guy mask. “I wear the mask to protect me from other men so they won’t bother me; Secondly, I wear the mask with women, so they can’t hurt me.” The general flavor of the story was protective. The flip side was, “If I wear the mask, then it’s ‘that guy’ whose the jerk. He’s the one acting that way, not the real me. I’m over here, safe, where no one can touch me. So if I say or do something you don’t like, I can disown it, because that was my mask acting that way, not the real me. You don’t even know the real me.”
Through many conversations, I began to wonder why? What is going on that we manufacture a mask to protect ourselves? And, what can we do to make the mask a tool and not a crutch?
To be clear, mask-wearing isn’t gender-specific; both men and women wear masks. We all spend a lot of energy pretending how we feel about ourselves and our lives. There may be a few people we share our true self with, but with much of the world, we share the mask we want people to see. The angry and protective mask, the perfect mask, the successful mask, the happy mask. Just look at Facebook; people’s walls are filled with moments in time that show whom they want us to believe they are.
Honestly, there is nothing wrong with any of this; not everyone has earned the right to know you. Also, sharing our joys is often how we find gratitude for our lives. By sharing our best moments we stay in touch with what we want. Conversely—only sharing our anxiety or angst—isn’t any better; it’s just a different spin. Yet, there’s a rub. We often judge ourselves by the masks that others wear. If you look at these external expressions, say the perfect mask, and assume the mask represents the person’s totality, you may be incorrect. Then fear sneaks in and you feel the pressure to judge yourself in comparison to that mask. You should know, you are making decisions about yourself without all the information.
An Important Truth
Many years ago, a co-worker said to me, “People constantly judge their insides by other people’s outsides.” I loved the simplicity of that statement, so I stole it. This important truth fits for many situations. Too often, we spend an inordinate amount of time comparing ourselves to other people. We look at them and think to ourselves how they have it all together while we are lacking or failing in some way. The other side of this is when we look at someone else’s life and feel superior to that person. Either way, we are judging our internal experience by someone else’s external presentation. Our masks are formed by trying to fit in with whatever our society says is right. And, that’s a lot of pressure. Furthermore, it’s a pressure that often keeps us living inside the lines or boxes that may not bring us joy.
“We judge others instantly by their clothes, their cars, their appearance, their race, their education, their social status. The list is endless. What gets me is that most people decide who another person is before they have even spoken to them. What’s even worse is that these same people decide who someone else is, and don’t even know who they are themselves.” — Ashly Lorenzana
Equally important is what many clients have whispered: “I hate my life.” This comes in a variety of forms: Everyone I look up to is doing so much better than me. All those people are happier, more successful, and generally more put together than I am. I, on the other hand, am a freaked-out mess. Regularly stressing over relationships, the amount of work I must do, my life, responsibilities, mortgage, job, and kids; basically, I’m stressed over most of the important aspects of my life.
What is the secret? Why do I feel this way, and how do I become successful like these other people?”
It’s a common complaint. When we judge people solely by external appearances, it’s easy to leap to “full-on” self-judgment. Likewise, it’s crucial to understand, these conclusions are only assumptions about the reality of other person’s interior experiences. And consider this, do you share how freaked out and stressed you are, with every person you meet? Likely not.
A Few Questions
- When you are out in the world, whom do you show your true internal workings to?
- How do you pull yourself together and what mask do you present to the world?
- How often do you go maskless?
- What would that even look like in your life, to go maskless?
- What might open up for you if you were to allow your true sparkle to shine?
Ironically, we have all had people who assume they know what our life is like, just by looking at our outsides. Often they only see what they are looking for. Maybe they see your car or house and decide what your life is like. For me, if I share that it’s possible to “like” as well as “love” your partner, they might assume my relationship with my husband is easy. Then they look at their own lives or relationships and think there is something wrong with them.
Maybe, just maybe, there isn’t anything wrong? What if this assumption is only an indicator of what they want in their lives? They may have work to do. Given that, very few people have it all together. Let’s say maybe 5 percent of the entire planet is that clicking all together, all aces, on every level. Five percent might even be too high.
A Life Worth Living
In the long run, I believe the only way anyone gets to a life worth living is by pushing through their fear when it shows up. By doing the work of developing awareness and creating a goal worth working towards. The more whole your life feels to you, the more it’s an indicator that you didn’t stick your head in the sand. Instead, you’ve stood up and looked directly into your anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. And then you made a decision and march straight at your fear, walking through it.
Success is measured in many ways. My experience is that happy, emotionally healthy, successful people don’t flinch from self-awareness; they don’t run from being honest and learning from their mistakes. They tie up their hair and get to work, owning those mistakes and learning. And maybe they did it at fifteen or maybe they are doing it at fifty-five. Just possibly, they do it again and again as they discover more about themselves, making themselves a work in progress from fifteen to fifty-five.
How to Move Forward
How you navigate the issues life tosses at you, it’s yours to determine what you learn. If you choose to take the lesson and build awareness, you get to take it with you into the next difficult situation that shows up. Your attitude determines the mindset that you bring to challenges. Again, how you respond to how you are feeling when you’re stressed and freaking out on the inside is key to moving forward.
It’s not necessary to judge yourself based on other people. Instead, deciding to focus on how you are feeling and how you will choose to respond to any situation is the secret. Showing up with your whole self, authentically, in spite of the fear, well that’s when you’re on the right path. Give yourself permission to set the mask aside, and just be you. Breathe through the lesson and move forward.
In the End
At the end of the day, the only judgment that matters is how you think about yourself when you lay your head on your pillow. How you respect your choices, how authentically you showed up, and how often you chose to align with your values and be courageous in your life. And, there is no mask needed for that.
I would LOVE to hear from YOU!
- How do you choose to mask your true sparkling self?
- What would you be willing to breathe through to show up authentically?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.