As I opened the doors at the back of the restaurant, I knew that I’d only gotten part of the story. Some friends had invited me to join them for dinner at a local eatery or to stop by their house later in the evening to help celebrate their 10-year anniversary.
Unable to make dinner, I walked to their house after dinnertime to find it empty. As the restaurant was only a few blocks away, I headed over to perhaps join them for a drink or maybe dessert. I knew the wife’s mom was in town, but the crowd of mostly unfamiliar faces staring at me as I stepped into the room was a bit of a surprise.
Friends and family had come in from around the country. What had been billed as just dinner was the happy couple’s celebration for renewing their vows. Fortunately, I’d changed into jeans and a nicer shirt rather than my usual Colorado attire of shorts and a t-shirt, but I was still short of the sports coats and dresses.
I could feel all of the eyes that were on me as I walked into that room.
This is a point where most of us consciously feel ourselves pulling a mask on. It’s a situation where expectations and perceptions weigh heavily on our minds. However, we often live much of our lives wearing masks to protect ourselves and to project a particular image.
Of course, It’s a learned behavior that starts very young. We are coached into specific behaviors and language patterns by our parents, teachers, and authority figures. Over time, we all become experts at choosing and wearing masks to fit our surroundings and to achieve our goals.
Layer Upon Layer Upon Layer
The problem is that most of us begin to forget that we are wearing different masks unless something brings it to our conscious awareness. We go to work and put on a mask that is our professional self. Through the years, we paint more and more layers on it in an attempt to “get ahead.” We may wear one for the boss, another for peers, and yet another for those reporting to us.
At home, we wear another for our partner and sometimes a completely different one for our children. Our parents, who were the first to encourage us to behave in a certain way, now get to see the mask you choose to wear for them.
We continue to add layers as the years continue to progress, and switching between masks becomes easier than changing your clothes!
The real challenge isn’t that we wear masks. It is that we often paint so many layers on the masks that we lose ourselves to the image of the masks that we wear. We focus more on our masks than on other parts of our lives. Our identity and even our self-consciousness become wrapped up in the image others see in the masks.
We lose touch with who we are and what we feel without the filter and protection of the mask to experience it through.
Time to Examine Your Masks?
Today may be the day to lay your masks out in front of you and consider where they came from and how well they are serving you. Think about the masks that you wear and ask yourself a few questions.
- Are the layers getting so thick that you can’t even recognize yourself?
- What would happen if you began to identify and clean away the layers that no longer serve you well?
- Do your masks represent different versions of you or have you created different identities that might not recognize one another?
- Is the face under the mask the person that you want to be or is it another mask to hide you from yourself?
- And most importantly, are you using your masks to hide what you want from life, even from yourself?
In the process of radically changing your life, you’ll need to consider the masks that you wear and far more importantly, to honestly connect with that person who is wearing those masks.