Seeing all of the masks over Halloween reminded me of the ones that I have worn before.
There was the mask of professionalism when I really wanted to let the f-bombs fly.
There was the mask of obligation when I really wanted to bail out.
There was the mask of contentment when I screaming inside.
Most of the time, it wasn’t fun wearing these masks, but sometimes it was.
Sometimes it was fun to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Others, I felt like a total fucking fraud.
Why not be myself? At one time, I felt like most areas of society didn’t want to see the real me. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I knew who that was. Who would I become if I removed all of the layers of armor that had been applied slowly over time? One layer to cover each wound (some self-inflicted, for sure) and to protect against the next.
What would she look like? Sound like? How would she carry herself? With confidence? Or would all of her insecurities shine through?
I played the game. I smiled when I was supposed to smile (for the most part, anyway – that RBF would still punch its way in). I laughed at all of the stupid jokes. I dressed the way I was supposed to dress. Wore my hair the way everyone else liked. Clomped around like a clumsy Clydesdale in heels that I really shouldn’t have ever put on.
I was absolutely authentic when I dug in to my work. When I met the deadlines. When I created things that had never existed before. I truly felt the reward with every creation. Every procedure, every guide, every reference, every presentation.
It has been only recently that I realized that over the years since I have held that job in which I created so much, I hadn’t been able to replicate that anywhere else. My mentor had actually embraced my personality and style. I simply hadn’t seen it because I’d covered my senses with the armor.
The places I have been since wanted so much more conformity than I’d ever known before. No push back. No questions. No eye rolls in stupid meetings.
To combat the latter, I did the only thing I knew to do with ‘subtlety’. I bought a book titled, “Boring Meeting SUCK” and placed in prominently on my desk. Sometimes I even carried it to meetings. Then I pretended to take notes. Passive-aggressiveness at its finest, for sure.
Yet another mask. Screaming inside again, wondering when I would be allowed to create something. Something not only useful, but meaningful. Something that others who came after me would appreciate so much, they would think, “Damn, I wish I’d had a chance to meet her.”
Those are the daydreams I would have while the minutes and hours of my life dwindled away with endless droning about the same bullshit topics that were discussed last week. Stick a fork in my eye already. End this.
It blew my mind that humans would do this for a paycheck.
It blew my mind that I was doing this for a paycheck.
Unfortunately, that’s just how it worked in the part of the country that I lived in at the time. There just weren’t a lot of options, so you hold on to what you’ve got. Don’t rock the boat.
When our family had the opportunity to relocate to another area where the jobs are plentiful, my hopes were high. THIS. This is where I will finally be able to find my place in the world. I can start creating again.
Alas, I learned hard and fast that corporate America is not the place for me. No one wanted the gifts that I had to give. Everyone was just trying to comply. To make it through the next reorg. Indeed, to survive.
There is little to no acknowledgment of anyone else’s humanity. You struggle to learn so that you can bleed for the corporation and in the end, you might end up with job security. Until the next round.
I did everything I thought I was supposed to do and I tried on every mask along the way.
I finally came to realize that the only way to remove the mask was to find and forge my own path. As I have my hand on the pulse with several friends and immediate family, I understand the corporate reorg to be a cycle that repeats around every 24 months. No thank you.
Then I am left to ponder what I even look like? What exactly is my own identity?
What is exposed upon removal of the layers upon layers of masks?
I wondered this during Halloween when my son insisted on being Pennywise – from Stephen King’s “It”.
I was all about his plan, as I had read the book in eighth grade (if not even earlier than that).
We told the boy that if he wanted to be Pennywise for Halloween that he was required to watch the movie (the latest version, part 1), in order to don the costume. We called it character study.
Surprisingly, he committed to it.
Not going to lie, he covered his eyes in some moments, but for the most part we were able to convince him this was all just great acting and cinema that resulted from a really great novel that was written decades ago.
Of course, he searched YouTube and watched behind the scenes footage before he was comfortable with it. It must be nice to have that benefit in life. I certainly didn’t have it at his age.
When the boy learned that he could live through the emotion of fear (from a movie that he had been well prepared for), when it came time to figure out his costume, and especially his mask, he was adamant about this part.
“You have to paint my face. I want to be able to make the expressions. I can’t do that with a mask.”
Well, then. Out of the mouths of babes.
Of course, he is right. Because everything is very simple right now when one is still in elementary school. It’s nice to have that connection back to simplicity.
It’s not as simple as slapping a pre-formed mask on your face.
First of all, it’s not going to fit right.
It will also be hot. You’ll probably sweat. Not fun.
Most importantly, the mass-produced mask removes your ability to apply your own expressions.
Every lip curl. Every brow furrow. Every eye roll.
The other defining difference is that a formed mask can be easily removed. That makeup…well, it took a little time to apply. It took a little longer to remove.
In fact, it took some protests and tears.
Perhaps we gave up around the sensitive eye area and he may have looked like a punk rocker with bloodshot eyes and a bit of eyeliner underneath on Friday because…well, we pick our battles.
And we choose our masks.
We choose to conform. Or not. We choose to be ourselves, or whomever we think we should be for someone else.
And ultimately, we choose how long we perform.
I remain inspired by an eleven-year-old boy who told me that he didn’t want to be formed by a mask. He needed to have his expressions show through.
Okay, universe. Once again…message received.
I am grateful to be on the journey of removing my layers.
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