Over the Easter Holiday I got the opportunity to host my sister, Stephanie, and her boyfriend of nearly 3 years, Anthony, for a few days. In addition to being excited that I was going to get to be with family over Easter, I was also looking forward to their visit for another reason. Even though they have been together for a while now, I had only met Anthony once before, and it was when he met my whole family over the Holidays a few years ago. Obviously, any guy that is meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time is going to be on his best behavior, which can make it difficult to really get a feel for who he is. So, I was happy to get the chance to spend some quality time with him, so that I could feel him out. I don’t know if it is because I am her oldest brother, I am overprotective of my family, or I am just a kind person, but I just felt like I needed to make sure that this potential, future brother-in-law was a good guy and would take care of Stephanie almost as well as I would. To do this, I needed to spend enough time with him that he would take off his “mask” of being on his best behavior, so that I could see the person underneath.
We all wear “masks” throughout our lives. In fact, most of us wear dozens of different “masks” every day depending on where we are, what we are doing, and who we are with. When you are talking to your boss you may put on the aura of “subservient yes man,” but at home with your kids you play the “confident, all powerful dictator.” These facades can be extremely useful tools in many social and professional settings, however you must be careful to not get so used to being someone else that you forget who you really are. It can be all too easy to keep switching out one “mask” after another until you get to the point where you never take off your “masks” entirely and let people see the real you. This is not only an extremely tiring way to live that will sap the happiness out of your life, but it can also make you appear insincere or phony as people catch on to your game. This was actually something that I struggled with for a long time, as I was a “people pleaser” and want to be the version of me that you like the best, regardless of how I actually felt. Thanks to my nurses though, I no longer have a problem with taking off my “mask” and just being me.
Like I said, I used to be a self proclaimed “people pleaser.” I was raised to be polite, respectful, and to put others needs before my own. These personality traits, that were practically branded into my brain as a child, have been an invaluable resource in forming strong relationships and building a successful life, but just like everything else in this world, you must maintain balance. There was a time when I failed to realize this, and I would defer and agree with practically anything anyone said. As soon as someone would start stating an opinion, I would start smiling and nodding back in agreement, regardless of whether I actually agreed or not. I was like a grinning, gimp bobblehead. One day one of my nurses, who I greatly respect and consider one of the wisest people I have ever met, made a statement about his views on homosexuality after watching a story on the news with me about gay marriage. He believed that being a homosexual was a choice and a sin, and of course being the “people pleaser” I was, I was bobbling away with a big smile plastered on my face. This perspective on homosexuality is not one I support however, and I actually actively oppose it rather strongly. That is what gave me a wake up call. How could I respect myself, or expect anyone else to, if I didn’t have the balls to actually state my opinion? How would I know if anyone actually liked me, if they never got to really see me? What was so wrong with me that I needed to hide behind a “mask” all the time?
I thought about these questions a lot over the next several weeks, and I came to realize a few things. First, I am an educated, well read person that thinks critically, and my opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s. This should have been obvious, since any opinion not based in ignorance is valid, because that is what an opinion is, an opinion. Second, if I have to pretend to be someone else and wear a “mask” in order to be around my friends, then they aren’t really my friends, they are this “masked” man’s friends. Since I am a funny, personable guy, and there are plenty of people who would want to hang out with me sans “mask,” I had no reason to put up a facade among friends. Lastly, I am an intelligent, interesting individual with lots of good qualities, and I may not be perfect, but just like everyone else, I am perfectly imperfect. There is nothing so disgustingly, heinously wrong with me that I have to constantly hide behind a “mask” and try to be someone else. I brought plenty to the table by just being plain, old me, Scott. In realizing these truths, I was able to gradually break myself of my bobblehead tendencies, and I started taking my walls down and letting people see the real me.
This transition is one of the most important, transformational events in my life. It was as if I had been imprisoned like “the man in the iron mask” up to this point, and now I was finally breaking free from my bondage. Through this metamorphosis I gained confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect, as well as relieving myself of the constant mental strain that came with always worrying about whether I had the right “mask” on. I became so much happier, formed stronger relationships with people, and found that people would actually rather hear my opinion than have me blindly agree. Now, this doesn’t mean that I never put on a “mask” or pretend to agree with people any longer, and that I go about shouting my thoughts from the rooftops. There are definitely situations where it is best to put up a facade and “play the game” so to speak, but you do need to pick and choose when to do this. You also have to be sure that when you do state your opinions, that you do so in a respectful, intelligent manner, that doesn’t attack or belittle the opinions of others. As I have said at least a thousand times now, you have to find the right balance for your life.
As important as making sure you take off your “mask” is to leading a happy, successful life, it is equally important that you also be aware that the people around you are simultaneously gauging what “mask” to wear, if any. This is what I was hoping to break through with Anthony over Easter. I wanted to get to know the man behind the “masks,” and thanks to the relaxed atmosphere of Easter and a few Summer shandies, I think that I was successful. I feel like I got a real sense of the type of man he is, and I feel much better knowing that my sister is with him when I am so far away. You have to be aware and in the moment enough to monitor the masquerade party that is constantly going on around you, in order to get the most out of life. What “masks” have you worn today? What would have been so terrible about taking off your “mask” in these situations and showing the real you? I’m guessing, that if you are really honest with yourself, that you will not come up with anything, and that is because most of the time there is no good reason to not be yourself. Remember this, and make an effort everyday to take off your “mask” and share the person you are with the world. Not only will you be happier, but you may find, as I did, that the you that you have been hiding for so long is actually pretty amazing.