As a child, I loved Halloween and the ability to transform into anyone I wanted to be. A mask and a hand-made costume were all I needed for a fun-filled night spent wandering up and down our neighborhood streets, gathering gobs of sugary treats. Wearing a mask for a night was great fun.
Truth be told, they seldom stayed on for the full night — after a few hours, the mask became uncomfortable and made it difficult to breathe. More often than not they were tossed into my pillowcase full of sweet loot before the night’s end.
Now imagine wearing those masks day in and day out, year after year after year. I’m quite certain I’d find them both irritating and suffocating. I would have grown to hate them.
Fast forward to adult life and the irony is that I’ve been wearing all sorts of masks for years … pretending to be something I’m not in the hopes of making my life better.
I sought to belong, so I wore masks that I thought would help me fit in.
I wanted approval, so I donned masks that I believed would earn the attention and confirmation I was seeking.
I yearned for career success, so I created masks that would make me appear to be the perfect employee, the one with unlimited upward potential, often doing work I didn’t enjoy at all.
Convinced I was not worthy of even the smallest measure of love, I longed to hide my true self, so I put on masks that helped me portray who I thought I should be.
Unhappy with nearly every aspect of myself, I got accustomed to inventing new masks … desperately praying people would accept the character I was creating. I lost touch with who I was.
It didn’t work. Just like with those plastic masks with the tight elastic chin grips from my childhood, I found that the masks became more and more painful to wear over time. I couldn’t breathe. I was suffocating. And, I seriously doubt I was ever completely fooling anyone with those masks anyway.
I know I’m not alone in this. Consider …
- How many masks have you put on in your life?
- What are the reasons you’ve put them on?
- How have they hurt you?
- Wouldn’t it just feel better to take the masks off?
One of the bravest acts of self-love you can take is to make the decision to just be you; it’s also one of the most freeing and important steps along the path to living your most fulfilling life.
Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without
and know we cannot live within.
– James A. Baldwin
Today I like to believe that I’m “mask free” – though I know I’m a work in progress. I won’t tell you it’s been easy – because it turns out, I did fool a few people who never completely realized who I truly was. So, it’s taken some adjustment for me and for them. Still, I feel freer than I’ve ever felt. I am authentically me and I make decisions based on who I am and what I want, not what I think the world expects of me. The result is that I now breathe more easily. I smile more often … and it shows. It’s been an exhilarating change that’s made a tremendous difference in my life.
Maybe it’s time you considered taking off the masks you’re wearing. I promise, you’ll breathe more easily, too.
Share your thoughts and your experience in the comments section below. Have you ever felt a need to hide yourself with a mask? What masks do you need to take off? How have the masks hurt you? Have you been brave enough to take off a mask and express your authentic self that you were once hiding — and how did that feel?
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