For many reasons in life, we are willing to sacrifice who we are as a person, to achieve things we desire. Most often we see this in social situations, I think we all know that person who’s interests and even their very personality changes based upon who they are dating. We all do this at some level, most commonly at work. I think almost all of us where a mask or two at work.
It’s an interesting dichotomy that exists in our society. We talk very much in this country about American individualism. We tell children to follow their dreams, that they can be anything they want. We have great little sayings like, let your freak flag fly. But do we really mean it? In fact, we look down on people who don’t conform to societies norms. We tell children chase your dreams, but it’s not too much longer before we start saying things like, you can’t make a living as an artist or any other none mainline gig and push our kids to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer.
Work may be the worst place of all. We are all in character almost all of the time. I was reminded of this recently in a workshop. The workshop involved talking about your childhood nickname, it’s origin and meaning in your life. At first I posted my actual childhood nickname, insane Kane. Then, quickly changed it to citizen Kane. You see even though this was a workshop where we were supposed to be dropping our walls and sharing deeply with each other, you know at work, you really can’t do that. You see there’s “professional life.” So in your “professional life,” you’re meant to be authentic, but only within certain boundaries. I watched several participants similarly pull their punches on their childhood nicknames by sanitizing their stories.
You see we love the fiction at every job that we’re one big family. That when we have meetings like this, that we often call retreats, that we are really sharing ourselves, growing closer and bonding. But the fact is we’re only comfortable with people sharing Leave it to Beaver-esque level stories. You can do some tragedy, a death in the family, a defect you outgrew, a mean-girl story. But if you had real hardship, if you took wrong turns in life, well those just make everyone uncomfortable.
You see at the end of the day, it’s only the special people in your life who are willing to take you as you really are, who won’t judge you for being different, that’s what makes them special. The fact is we all spend a lot of time wearing masks for the sole purpose of hiding the real person we are, because we don’t want to be judged, it’s a necessary but exhausting game.
So I have another workshop tomorrow, we’re supposed to do a narrative of the high and low points in our lives, those turning point moments. But were I too talk about the actual things that have happened in my life, I can’t even imagine the looks, the thoughts and the judgement I would face. I’ll be honest, at this point in life, I’m exhausted with the game. Exhausted by the pretense that we put forward that we want to know each other, when truly, for the most part, we really don’t. But we all know, except with those special people, you must play the game to protect the real you. ~ Rev Kane