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Mary* was in tears. She had come to me in desperation.

You wouldn’t know that she was in trouble to look at her, because outwardly she was joyful and kind. Her friends and colleagues didn’t know she was desperate, because she was a loyal companion and recognized as one of the most generous mentors at work. Even her loving husband didn’t realize the extent of her torment, because she worked hardest to keep things together at home.

Not so inside…

Inside, she felt overwhelmed. She felt she was always rushing, under-serving all her important people. The coping mechanisms she’d developed over a lifetime of success seemed to be failing her. She was afraid that she was disappointing at home and at work, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

These should have been years of celebration for her, a phase of joy and ease. Her children were grown, successfully launched on their own independent journeys. She had a strong reputation in the local business community and beyond.

Yet, she was desperate. Despite looking happy, she really didn’t feel it.

Halfway through our discussion, she used the phrase that I have heard so often when good people lose their way:

“Roddy, I’m just so tired of wearing the mask.”

Of course, she was not referring to the physical masks we’re all wearing in public right now to protect one another from the threat of COVID-19. These are appropriate now, and wearing those life-saving masks is a gift we give one another.

It is the metaphorical masks that so many of us wear behind the physical ones that are the problem. They are one of life’s fundamental challenges, and here is the reason:

We are, at our very core, natural beings. Like all living beings, we are dynamic—both physically and psychically.

Our psychic destiny is growth. And when we grow, when we expand our consciousness…we are happy.

But you can’t grow inside the rigid form of a metaphorical mask.

Perhaps for a time, often as young adults, we grow to fill our metaphorical mask. Having decided to be a physician, or a businessperson, 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.

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 then, sooner or later, the pain of stasis starts eroding our well-being.

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 reevaluate their purpose and direction will end in a disastrous downward spiral.

These people hide from their pain in many 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 and continuing in their unhappiness.

But the bold few who dive into self-examination 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 that reward.

Think of how relieved we will all feel when the threat of pandemic is gone and we can safely remove our physical masks, showing each other our full faces again. That same relief is waiting for you when you dare to remove your metaphorical mask and explore the true self waiting beneath.

Like you, Mary is a beautiful, hard-working, powerful being. She has now started a new 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?

*Names changed to protect privacy.