Years ago, I remember coming to the end of a holiday and realising I needed to get some gifts to take back for the folks at home, nothing extravagant, but something to share my experience of the place with them.
Letting my eyes roam the walls and shelves of the tourist store I saw some miniature Venetian Masks.
Now, I’m guessing that many of you, like me, have never been any closer to a Venetian Masked Ball than that! Nonetheless, you’ll likely have seen a movie portraying these elaborate occasions, amazing costumes, and beautifully crafted masks that people wear! You might even have attended one!
Regardless of whether we’ve attended a masked ball or not, the truth is we all wear masks most of the time! Granted, they are invisible, but that we wear them is universal and undisputed.
Much of my work is about handling the invisible masks we wear.
What do I mean?
Whenever we have to communicate we find ourselves presenting in ways we think the situation demands. In other words, we reach for and put on a mask, or persona!
These masks differ according to the circumstances, sometimes they protect us, sometimes they impress.
We wear different masks in a whole number of different places and at different times. We have masks for work, friends, family and strangers; how we present to a work colleague can be very different to how we do with a customer, and different again for our boss or mother!
Importantly, masks in themselves are not bad!
Problems arise from the ways we use them, sometimes using them to avoid, to dominate or manipulate the people around us.
Problems also arise from how we view them. When we over-identify with our masks we can easily lose sight of our own authentic, true selves. That underlying reality of who we are when all the external and internalised demands have been stripped away. That unique and complex reality that is hidden at the core of our identity.
So, here’s the thing: we all need our different masks or personas, but for healthy and integrated living we need masks that connect us with and emerge from our most authentic selves!
A well-crafted persona isn’t built only out of what we think others expect of us, but also from our own inner resources and reality.
Getting in touch with them requires three things:
First, recognition that we live in a world that’s heavily invested in telling us what we should aspire to be, from media to employers, even friends and family, and discouraging us from a healthy introspection and self-reference.
Second, time and space to listen to the promptings of our own heart and imagination.
Third, cultivating the confidence to act on and test our own promptings and intuitions about what we can offer to the world around us.
And finally, a challenge: Take a good long look at the masks you wear and ask, ‘who do these really serve?’ Do they present the truest version of me?