Which MASK are your wearing today?
I’d like to talk about something that’s very personal to me and to be honest, it feels a little vulnerable sharing, but I think you’ll relate to it...
It’s the “mask” we often wear to hide certain characteristics about ourselves that we feel people will judge us for or that make us feel different.
To bring this to life, I’ll share a story of one of my own experiences.
Growing up, I was aware that I was different to other children around me - I was quiet, I got excited about anything that was different or out or the ordinary, I didn’t understand jokes (I still don’t!) and I had my own “unique” dress sense. I wasn’t in the cool gang at school and I was ok with that because for the most part, I lived in my own world.
That world got real as soon as I entered the workplace at age 16. I started work in a Bank and began to notice that the people behaved, dressed and talked in a similar way. I felt out of place in my girly clothes and my hair in long dark brown plaits.I was affectionately called “Hiawatha” or “Pocahontas” and on cake day each Friday I was bought the kids marshmallow cone when I desperately wanted the grown-up pastry!
I knew from a young age that I wanted to make an impact in the world (although I didn’t know what that was at the time) and I saw how “professional” the managers and directors looked and behaved.I decided that a career was the answer and I wanted to be just like them.
So, what did I do….?
Yes, I started trying to fit in as best I could...
I upgraded my work clothes. In fact, I sometimes borrowed my Mums clothes and court shoes – what on earth was I thinking?! I observed the workplace norms and started to follow them, but worse, I started to mask my quirks and mostly, my vulnerability - the real essence of my life experiences and the core of my personality that has shaped me into the person that I am.
I thought this was serving me well as I progressed through my career until one day, one of the Director’s where I was working said to me
“who is Natalie Clare?”
“what do you mean?” I laughed
“I’ve never known anyone like you, you’re so professional, you’re well liked by everyone and you produce this excellent work, but we don’t know anything about you – who you are?” he repeated.
Well, that flawed me – I didn’t know what to say or think and I certainly wasn’t about to tell him and risk taking off my mask. Being the reflector that I am, I pondered this for a while.
I had spent so much of my career trying to mask my quirks to fit the mould of “professional” because I was worried that if people saw what I perceived as my flaws or vulnerabilities, I would lose my professional image and ultimately, my credibility.
From then on, I decided to slowly remove the mask. It took a long time, a lot of practice and there are parts of it that still feel glued to me, but guess what…?
I started to become more successful and build deeper relationships at all levels. Not because I was any more skilled or capable, but because people could really relate to me and my experiences – I was able to demonstrate my humanity, even in the most difficult and unlikely situations. It’s not what I did, it was how I made people feel.
I finally decided that it was ok to wear pink and a bit of bling (in moderation) and to talk about my personal life (within reason) in the workplace, because people wanted to know that I was a real person, with real feelings and real experiences - not a corporate robot.
So, I ask you – “what mask are you wearing today?”.
Are you hiding your voice, your emotions or your experiences, agreeing with others when you disagree, playing down or boosting your achievements, qualifications and successes or are you creating the illusion of having it all together, in your desire to be “professional” or “credible”?
Whatever it is, this week I invite you to be your true self and take off your mask or at least a part of it, whether it’s for one day, one week, or forever, because if not this week, then when?
Not only will people respect you, relate to you and open up to you, they are more likely to see you as a positive role model and want to follow you. In turn, you will feel happier and more congruent with your true authentic self.
If you’ve seen the Disney film ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ there’s a fabulous quote from Oprah Winfrey that sums this up… “In our wounds, the light shines”.
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