Monday, October 29, 2012

Masks: Halloween Only

Halloween, 2012

One of my clients has the best costume ever this year: she is real.

In one of our recent coaching calls, this athlete and exceptional work ethic professional contemplated cancelling her “just-to-get-to-know-you-better” meet up with several people from a company – a company she had already applied to twice in the past five years and where her dream job awaited.

Two days before her meet up, she had had a different kind of meet up in her busy urban city: she and her bike met in a well-concealed and unposted construction spot on the city pavement. While she felt gratitude for not having a serious injury, the results of the fall left her with an achy body, sore and chafed knee and a few facial scrapes.

With her upper and lower lips bookended by bandages to prevent infection and scarring, she wondered if she should postpone her meet up. She made a mindful introspective search and determined that she would show up in and, well, be real - both literally and authentically.

If you were ever a Velveteen Rabbit reader, you know that the young boy about whom author Margery Williams wrote had always imagined his well-loved and well-worn rabbit as “real.” The Skin Horse teaches the Velveteen Rabbit that “once you are real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

After her meet up, my client said this: “Well, I either nailed it or failed it.”

She wasn’t sure if the people with whom she met liked her or dreaded the meeting. Since all of her applicant material was on file – and yes, sometimes and somewhere there ARE companies that keep great prospects in an electronic file, not in a circular basin – the meeting was rather informal and atypical from common interviews.

When I asked her what she meant by nailing or failing it, she explained that she was real – no filters, no hiding, no games. “Are you looking elsewhere?” they asked. My client shook her bandaged head and explained that she was content where she was at, that she had politely declined recruiter calls for other job opportunities, and that their company had for five years been a dream of hers.

Many would challenge the honesty and forthrightness of her comments. Shouldn’t she protect herself a little, hold her cards a little closer to the vest? I offer a polite, “No.”

Today, psychologists say that our world is changing so fast, that yesterday’s news is probably like today’s news. If we are constantly adapting and changing to the minute-to-minute changing stream of interrelations, how will we know which face to put on, which best foot to put forward? If we allow the external hyper-changing environment to determine our game, we enter in those relations at a huge disadvantage, and truly do ourselves a horrific injustice and disservice.

It is so much easier to be real; bandages and all. If we do a figurative “self-google” search to find out who we are, what might come up for us? For my client, she is an athlete who enjoys riding her bike in the city, a highly motivated professional, an extremely thoughtful and giving friend. She knows who she is.

One of her best assets is her courage and skill for recognizing when she engages her defense mechanisms – those “fear” masks we all wear to protect our ego from getting hurt. We all have most likely put on masks of avoidance, denial, projection, displacement, acting out, repression, regression, etc. An honest look within will reveal enormous insight, if we can just get past the mask.

Defense mechanisms are what Freud said we use to preserve our ego. Defense mechanisms are the different masks we have in our emotional survival kit and these masks are as inherent to us as our physical survival. Often times, we are not aware that we use them, because we are afraid to be real.

Past hurts, mistrusts, and betrayals that have informed us, bully their way into our current day. And because we are not consciously on top of subliminal fears moment to moment, we, by default allow them to yell, “Boo!” We then become fearfully cautious, vigilant, and take great measures and care not to get burned/afraid again. In essence, we have deferred to our ego and have become comfortable wearing the mask of distrust.

I have a hunch that the reason so many people love to wear costumes at Halloween time, is that it is fun to be someone else, have another identity to play with for just one time. I gently offer you to consider being happy with who you are – accept and embrace your unique gifts and talents, and openly display the scrapes that have shaped who you are in this present moment. We all have them.

How about this treat for Halloween: consider getting comfortable with who are on November 1st through October 30th and save the other 364 days for being you? And the fast changing winds of our world will not trick you into changing who you are in real time. For real.

Mindfully Yours,


P.S. She nailed it; dream job starts in two weeks.

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