Take off your Mask.

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Growing up most of us get asked a well-intentioned but somewhat silly question by adults: What do you want to be when you grow up? Really! How is a 10-year old supposed to really know what they want to become at that stage of their life unless they are a genius? The Irony of that question is that most adults are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their adult life but they expect a 10-year-old to answer the question.

 Young children answer the question with much self-assuredness and confidence, believing that anything is possible. They come up with answers such as I want to become an astronaut, engineer, medical doctor, lawyer, footballer, or basketballer. They answer the question based on their mental conditioning, media programming, societal indoctrination, religious dogma, and most importantly they aspire to be like their parents, caregivers, teachers, and their environmental definition of success, prestige, and honor.

 From a very early age, we aspire to become what our parents expect us to be. Sometimes our parents live their lives through us, they want us to do well and conform to the dictates of the herd, the group, and the society. The challenge most of the time is that we live the role self instead of following our bliss to find our true north or true self. The result is a life lived in apprehension, anxiety, fear, obligation, shoulds, musts, guilt, shame, and conformity. Based on our answer to the “What do you want to become when you grow up question? We try very hard in adolescence to be consistent with that answer, even when the reality is now different. We continue to want to become a lawyer even though, we are a not passionate about the profession.

At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we’re going to become, and then when we become those people, we’re not always thrilled with the decisions we made

So young people pay good money to get tattoos removed that teenagers paid good money to get. Middle-aged people rushed to divorce people who young adults rushed to marry. Older adults work hard to lose what middle-aged adults worked hard to gain. On and on and on.

The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?” –Daniel Gilbert, Harvard Psychologist

  We get sucked into the societal lies that we are here to just pay bills, drop two or 3 kids, pay a mortgage for 25 years, save for your retirement till 65, by which time you would be dealing with health-related issues. We slave our youth in the rat race of life, busy paying bills, working in jobs that are not fulfilling for us and we settle for less than we can become. We continuously put on the mask, play the role expected by our family, society, religion, and the world at large. We are afraid of becoming the black sheep, scapegoat hence we lack the courage to live life on our own terms. We settle and do not follow or explore our passions and inclination to become great.

“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” – Lily Tomlin.

In our bid to live up to the expectations and obligations of the world around us. We use the mask as a coping mechanism: we pretend, lie, mask, create a persona, project, gaslight, fake it, and we do not show our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We want to fit in with the crowd, the peer and societal pressure are very strong, hence we conform and settle for less than we can become. We project an aura of perfectionism based on the fear of failure in the world.

True and False Self

 The True and False Self are psychological concepts popularized in the 60s by British Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. In his 1960 paper titled: Ego Distortion in terms of true and false self, Winnicott writes:

At the earliest stage, the True Self is the theoretical position from which come the spontaneous gesture and the personal idea. The spontaneous gesture is the True Self in action. Only the True Self can be creative and only the True Self can feel real. Whereas a True Self feels real, the existence of a False Self results in a feeling unreal or a sense of futility.

The False Self, if successful in its function, hides the Tue Self, or else finds a way of enabling the True Self to start to live. The false self is defensive in nature and its chief aim is to hide and protect the True self, whatever that may be.

The false self sets up as real and it is this that observers tend to think is the real person. In living relationships, work relationships, and friendships, however, the False self begins to fail. In situations in which what is expected is a whole person the False Self has some essential lacking. At this extreme the True Self is hidden.

We hold tightly to our false self, playing the role dictated to us by society, parenting, religion, schooling, indoctrination, etc. For most of us, we never find our true self and we live all our life, conforming, threading with caution, tiptoe, and sleepwalking through life; all in the name of upholding societal, familial, and religious values. We put on the mask in almost every area of our lives: role of child to our parents, the role of the compliant employee to employers, the role of the happy spouse in an unhappy marriage, the role of a family member in a dysfunctional family unit, etc.

The Games we all People Play

In his bestselling book –Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, psychiatrist Eric Berne writes about the role and games we all play.

A GAME is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome.

In Games People Play, Berne describes a game as a patterned and predictable series of transactions that are superficially plausible but actually conceal motivations and lead to a well-defined predictable outcome. They are habitual, dysfunctional methods of obtaining strokes, and the people involved are not fully aware of the two levels of transactions in which they are engaged.

 This game formula is as follows:

C (Con) + G (Gimmick) = R (Response) —> X (Switch) —> P (Payoff)

The “con” is the first move/invitation made by the initiator, Person A. The “gimmick” is the weakness in Person B which leads him or her to respond to the con. The X represents a switch in ego states by Person A. P is his or her payoff, a surprise feeling.

As long as the transactions are complementary, it is irrelevant to the rule whether two people are engaging in critical gossip (Parent-Parent), solving a problem (Adult-Adult), or playing together (Child-Child or Parent-Child).

Social Media –  Narcissistic Epidemic

Social Media is making us a world of role players that are constantly faking it and always playing to the gallery. Fake it till you make it is the order of the day. It is more important how you are perceived than how you really are. The platform’s metrics such as likes, retweets exploit our basic human need to be part of a group/tribe. We mask our behavior, most people have multiple social media accounts -one real and one burner account. That is how we live our lives – we are double agents: a fake us and a real us.

A world that we are not supposed to show our vulnerabilities to the world, hence our social media post is a well-curated performance/masking to the world on how we want them to perceive us. We share the marriage but not the divorce, we share the job offer but not the layoffs, we share the exam success but not the failure, we share our wins but not the lows. We live in a world where everyone is flawlessly perfect, make no mistake and everyone has their sh**t figured out.

You are who you are when no one is really watching. We are defined by what we do when no one is really watching when the mask is really out. We get rewarded in public for what we intensely practice and refine in private. As Aristotle once noted “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” We all put on the mask once in a while but putting on the masking all the time is not sustainable and healthy for a great life.

Author and Journalist Will Storr writes about our tendency for perfection in the age of social media. In his book, Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, he observed the following traits in the age of selfies:

Social Perfectionism

If you’re prone to social perfectionism, your self-esteem will be dangerously dependent on keeping the roles and responsibilities you believe you have. You’ll tend to agree with statements such as, ‘People expect nothing less than perfection from me’ and ‘Success means that I must work harder to please others.’ It’s not about what you expect of yourself. ‘It’s what you think other people expect, You’ve let others down because you’ve failed to be a good father or a good brother – whatever it is.

Perfectionist Presentation

That’s the tendency to put on a false front of seeming perfect, where you cover up mistakes and shortcomings,’ he said. ‘You’ll see this especially among younger people, who portray their lives on social media. For the person who feels they need to keep up with others, that seems to be an added pressure. It’s like, “Here’s my perfect life, take a look at it”.’ Everybody judges their own worth by comparing themselves to others. That’s simply how minds work.

You Only Live Once (YOLO)

We put on the mask in an age where we are all supposed to be perfect, we lead a life of quiet desperation tiptoeing towards our graves, paying bills, saving for retirement, hoping we do not die in the process. We put on the mask in a bid to paint a well-crafted human who does not make or hardly make mistakes at least in public. The allure of social media mostly comes from this perfection in our quest to living up to these ideals and it is very tempting and fleeting.

Take off the mask because it would not serve you in the long run. No one would really give a sh*t about your tweets, Facebook posts, timeline shares, and all other social media accolades in 10 years from now. You are going to DIE and the world would move on, you and I are not in any way shape, or form special but most of us did not get the memo. We waste our limited time here focusing on the trivialities of life and we do not have time for the big rocks.

The key to becoming great is to embrace your imperfection, no one is perfect, we are all trying to figure it out. Take off the mask, follow your bliss, have the courage to find your true north/self. As Steve Jobs once quipped “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”. You Only Live Once, If you do it right once is enough. 

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile |

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