Many of us wear masks. We wear them to protect ourselves from danger. They offer temporary safety, but may have serious long-term consequences.
Mary was in tears. She had come to me in desperation.
You wouldn’t know that she was in trouble, because outwardly she was joyful and kind. Her friends and colleagues didn’t know she was desperate, because she was a loyal comrade and was recognized as one of the best mentors at work. Even her loving husband doesn’t realize the extent of her torment; because she works hardest to keep things together at home.
Not so inside …
Inside, she feels overwhelmed. She feels she is always rushing, under-serving all her important people. Coping mechanisms developed over a lifetime of success seem to be failing her. She’s afraid that she’s disappointing at home and at work … despite ample evidence to the contrary.
These should be years of celebration; a phase of joy and ease. Her children are grown, successfully launched on their own independent journeys. She has a strong reputation in the local business community and beyond.
Yet, she’s desperate. Despite looking happy, she really doesn’t feel it.
Halfway through our discussion she uses the phrase that I have heard so often when good people lose their way:
“Roddy, I’m just so tired of wearing the mask.”
This is one of life’s fundamental challenges. We are, at our very core, natural beings. Like all living beings, we are dynamic—both physically, and non-physically (I lump all these non-physical dimensions into the term psychic).
Our psychic destiny is growth. And when we grow … when we expand our consciousness … we are happy.
But you can’t grow inside a mask.
Perhaps for a time, often as young adults, we grow to fill our mask. Having decided to be a physician, or a business person, or an artist, or an international athlete, we know what it takes. And so, we build ourselves out within that mask, to fulfill our dreams. We fake until we make it. And many of us are successful in doing so.
Actually, many more are unsuccessful at filling the mask. They live with enduring sadness and guilt. They feel they don’t deserve the success they have earned. We call this imposter syndrome, and 75% of Western populations suffer from this in some form. But that’s for another blog.
Many of us are successful at filling the mask, and for a time, we are happy—even if we’re not entirely comfortable that the mask has been largely designed by society’s expectations of us, rather than by our own desires.
But you can’t grow inside a mask.
Sooner or later, the pain of stasis starts eroding your wellbeing.
Too many people then freeze, too frightened or embarrassed to drop the mask. They fear that introspection will destroy the (false) happiness they have built. They are terrified that they will look unsuccessful in front of family, friends and colleagues. They are afraid that a courageous pause to re-evaluate their purpose and direction will end in a disastrous downward spiral.
These people hide from their pain in many (sometimes surprising) ways. It may be alcohol, or drugs, or other abusive manifestations. Often, it’s simply overwork. They hide behind a fierce wall of determination, pretending that the world simply wouldn’t survive without them.
In contrast, the bold are rewarded.
They ask the big questions, and find the big answers, either alone, or with the guidance of a professional coach. Growth is their reward, and happiness is the currency of the reward.
Mary isn’t her real name, but I can assure you that she’s a real person. Like you, she’s a beautiful, hard-working, powerful being. She has started a growth spurt. She’s excited (and a little nervous); and I am honored to be her guide. She will unlock many riches on this next phase of her journey.
What about you? When your next growth spurt arrives, what will you do?