Imagine wearing a rubbery mask to work every day. It’s thick and it’s heavy and you can’t breathe very well, but it protects you. No one can see your face and your expressions are hidden. They can’t tell when you are frazzled because you don’t know the answer to a question, or when you are scared because you’ve made a mistake. Your mask shows them what you believe they want to see and helps you act in ways you believe they expect you to.
You’re an accountant. Stick to the numbers and stop asking so many questions.
You’re a lawyer. You must be OK with conflict and arguing.
You have all those initials after you name. You should know the answer.
And if we feel our masks aren’t enough, we hide behind our titles and credentials, believing they will give us instantaneous credibility and respect.
You know it’s not good for you to keep the mask on or hide behind it, but when you try and take it off something holds you back. What if they don’t like what they see or hear? What if my honesty disappoints them? What if I’m not good enough? And so, we keep our masks on, we pretend that we are OK; and we feel safe and protected.
What do we do when we realize our masks are no longer serving us and we feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled? Or when we suspect we are no longer growing or developing? Or when our actions clash with our values?
We can arrive at this juncture at any stage of our career; when we know it’s time to take off that mask and start showing up as our true self. Though it’s hard to leave that old, comfortable, safe, and protected place; this is a new place and time of challenge and opportunity. It can be frightening for sure, but it can also be exciting. It’s a time to face our fears, work through them, and choose how we want to show up and be seen in our work and in our lives.
When we struggle with taking off our masks and revealing ourselves, we can ask:
What’s scary about this?
What am I risking by keeping it on?
How can revealing more of my true self benefit others?
How can I strike a balance between what I believe others expect from me and my own desire to be authentic?
How can I slowly start to peel off my mask and test how others will respond?
When we work through these questions and consider why ‘standing up for me’ is important, we begin to shed light on how we can show up differently. Whether you choose to inch forward or take a giant leap, know that you are moving in the right direction towards being more confident, fulfilled and productive – all great things for you, your organization, and those you serve.
By having conversations about the burden of expectations we carry, and how we want to be seen, we can remove our mask and free our self from it. Then, we might choose to help others to do the same. We can surface these issues and find solutions to make us better in our work, and in our lives.
Karmen Masson is a professional coach and consultant, and a recovering mask-bearing lawyer/manager/executive who hid behind many titles throughout her career. She helps individuals to bring more of themselves to work, and organizations to support their people in being both fulfilled and productive.