As far back as I can remember, I wore a mask.
A mask to hide my true self. A mask to guard against humiliation and shame. A mask to bury my insecurities.
I had a childhood that carried alot of shame. And fear. And loneliness.
And I did what most people do who lack self-confidence and self-esteem, you hide behind a wall of camouflage and inauthenticity. Today, it’s actually even easier to do with social media and the perfectly filtered Instagram photo so many people project to the world.
For me, I built my mask similar to what alot of people do when they start working professionally. We strive to check the boxes of success such as a nice home, fancy clothes, expensive cars and stories of excess. And that’s just the physical and material.
Mine was more about the emotional mask. Projecting an aura of toughness, discipline, intensity and fearlessness. I was on a mission to succeed in business and nothing, nothing was going to stand in my way. I needed to succeed. I was desperate to succeed. It’s all I had to hide and run away from my insecurities.
Fake. All of it.
I wore a mask 24/7.
In society, we are taught to “mask” so much…our true feelings, our inner most fears, our self-doubt, our true identity, our authentic self…
Don’t stand out. Don’t be different. Don’t be yourself. Those are the actual messages we are sent countless times a day from advertisements, to social media, to the workplace. Don’t be vulnerable. Don’t show your insecurities to anyone!
Advertising messages everyday are hurled at us that if we buy this car we will be cool like Matthew McConaughey. If we drink this drink we will “be like mike”. Or if we wear these clothes we will be cool like Don Draper:)
Think about logos for instance. We buy cars not for their engineering, but for the status it brings to our ego. We buy clothes not so much for how they feel, but how the logo makes us part of the trendy set. (I often wonder that if there were no logos, would people just buy for the color or comfort of something and actually not feel the need to purchase so much new stuff?!?!).
After years and years of wearing a mask, I had become something on the outside that I knew wasn’t what was actually on the inside. And after a long time of wearing this mask, I actually forgot who that person even was. The only person I knew was the one that I created. The fake one became the real one. Successful. Stoic. Serious. Professional. Tough as nails. “Never let ’em see ya sweat” was the motto I adopted.
It worked for me, so I thought. I was able to succeed in business, build a good career and enjoy material success. I acted a part, and I think I was a pretty good actor actually. I played a role that society expected me to play as a dad, businessman, husband and friend.
Until I woke up one day and saw how truly unhappy I was living what was other people’s idea of a successful life. And I set out to change all of that and finally take off my own mask. I knew it was going to be hard and oftentimes gut wrenching, but I had no choice. True happiness was my only goal and I wasn’t going to turn back.
So I decided to take off my mask. And just, simply, BE ME! It was uncomfortable at first. Scary actually. But I found my voice once I found the courage to not care what others thought. And I finally became my authentic self. I recognize him now. He is 52 going on 13. He is childlike in his wonder and marvel at the beauty and miracle of life. He plays and laughs alot. Cries with joy easily. Silly. Emotions on his sleeves. Striving to be the best dad, husband and friend I can be. Unconditionally loving. Authentic.
My friends that know me well know how passionate and animated I get when I coach kids in basketball. That’s me without my mask.
My family knows how I struggled with stress and how my meditation and buddhist practices have literally saved my life. That’s me without my mask.
My work colleagues know how often I am unsure of the right path or direction. That’s me without my mask.
My kids know how many mistakes I made throughout my life and continue to do so. That’s me without my mask.
And one of the miracles of no longer wearing a mask is that people actually accept you more and you attract more authentic people to you as well. I wish I had the courage to know this when I actually was 13. But then my journey wouldn’t have been what it is. And so I try and pass this approach on to my young kids.
I read a book that helped me enormously in this area of my life called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, a wonderful meditation teacher. It really opened my eyes about how much we self-sabotage ourselves and let feelings of low self-worth dominate our thinking. Here is a great quote from Tara that beautifully summarizes the book and her thoughts…
“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.”
When we radically accept ourselves and we live as our true-selves, the benefits are really amazing:
-You wind up saving money:) by not buying things you think will create a certain “image” of yourself.
-You wind up so much less stressed because you no longer occupy so much of your time thinking of what others want to hear or see from you.
-You embrace mindfulness fully because you no longer think so long and hard about the scripted self but literally just live in the moment.
-You wind up truly becoming who you are and incredibly happy as a result.
One of the main reasons I write this blog is part of my own journey to put my true authentic self out there without fear of ridicule or concern of acceptance by others. And of course, I write it to help others that might be suffering from the same things I suffered from most of my life.
So, in that spirit, I ask you…are you wearing a mask? Are you truly, unconditionally authentic and true to your real self? If not, then I hope this entry will help you find the courage to finally, beautifully, remove your own “mask”.
So rather than Jim Carrey in “The Mask”, you will resemble more one of my true heroes…