We all wear a metaphorical mask at some point in our lives. There are so many reasons we do this. It may be to protect yourself, or to fit it. We will explore why in the journal prompts below.
Back in 2019, I realized, after it was brought to my attention, very lovingly, that I hide behind my contagiously positive mask. It wasn’t the first time I had been told this, but it was the first time I truly listened and took it in.
You see, when I was dubbed contagiously positive, I was so proud. So much so that when I changed careers and started my coaching practice, I knew I would name it Contagiously Positive, instead of branding it under my name.
I loved this new persona! I still do. It felt so good to be seen as happy, positive and optimistic because I hadn’t always been this way, or rather, felt that way. And I clung to this like it was life or death.
It wasn’t easy to ease into this “new” and “improved” me because it was so different from the young struggling girl that once was.
AN IDENTITY SHIFT
It is so normal to change, but we, or others resist it. So putting on masks can make it easier. Until it isn’t.
Growing up in a small town, there wasn’t much people didn’t know about you. I went to one school from kindergarten to grade nine, one high school all the way until college.
The friends I grew up with only knew me in one way. My first real job out of college, I worked there for ten years, so they all knew me in a certain way. It felt really hard to break out as I felt my identity change, but also as my desires changed.
Whenever my husband and I got the opportunity to relocate from Ottawa to Saskatoon, I jumped at the chance. I could become an entire new person. No one knew me, so it was a blank slate.
The young girl who struggled with an eating disorder could get left behind. No one there would ever know the young woman who just couldn’t get her life together. The woman who didn’t know how to leave a ten year career in project management, and was burnt out from it, could start over and finally follow her dream of starting a coaching practice.
Clean slate. Fresh start.
It felt like a relief not to have to talk about why the changes I was making to better my life were a good thing when people would say, “You’ve changed.” In a derogatory way.
In that fresh start, I made a big mistake. I didn’t let people know the entire me. I only let them know the contagiously positive girl. Even on the days when I wasn’t happy, I made sure people thought I was.
This served me for a while, but on the days when I really needed to talk to someone about how I was feeling, I felt like I couldn’t. I had trapped myself in a perfect little happiness box. The mask I was wearing began to feel suffocating. The longer I hid, the harder it got to let all parts of me come through.
SOMETHING POSITIVE STARTS TO GROWS
It would take a global pandemic for me to realize how deeply I had hidden myself.
As we went into our third, fourth and fifth lockdown, it felt really difficult to stay positive. My main revenue earner was put on hold, and I didn’t know how to serve my community in a way that was supportive. “What am I going to do if I can’t facilitate workshops? Can my coaching practice alone sustain me financially? Is this even what I want to do anymore? Does anyone even care with everything they have going on?” All questions I began asking myself.
I couldn’t hide behind positivity, so I decided to take off the mask and be open about what I was truly feeling. But whenever I would post something on social media that wasn’t positive, I would get messages saying, “aren’t you suppose to be contagiously positive?” Or I would get negative feedback about what I shared. And when I talked to other people, some would say, “Well, it could be worse. At least you have your husbands income.” All very true, but this made me not only feel guilty, toxic positivity will do that, but angry. It felt like they were saying my career was less valuable or worthy as my husbands. It felt like they were saying my feelings were not valid because I didn’t have it as bad as someone else, so I should just be grateful. I am grateful, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to feel scared, or worried.
I wanted to put the mask back on so badly. Just stay in my safe contagiously positive bubble. But I couldn’t. The thought of it made it difficult to breathe. Instead of putting the mask back on, faking my way through it, I stepped away. The lockdowns gave me an out to take a much needed hiatus. It was time for me to reflect on why I felt so compelled to hide behind this mask and persona.
Deep down I already knew…it kept me safe from judgement.
The past few months have been challenging, frustrating, confusing, deeply emotional, but also freeing and so expansive.
Stepping into all aspects of my personality, even the parts of me that are not contagiously positive has brought up so many questions. I am not used to having more questions than answers. I kept thinking, “I’m the one people come to for solutions!”
I decided I wasn’t going to push or hustle or fake my way through it and just give all of myself into this phase of my life. Instead of me giving the advice, which I realize now isn’t always wanted when not asked for, I allowed people in. I told myself to stop talking and let someone else share their perspectives and ideas and solutions with me. In fact, I lost my voice and couldn’t speak for about a week which one friend said it was the universes way of telling me to shut up and listen. I had a good laugh over that.
I did listen and when I spoke, I did it honestly, from a place where I didn’t have the answers, or try to put on a positive spin on it. I shared how I didn’t know what direction to go. I discussed not having any content to create for the blog or podcast after having years of consistent content. “Would I become irrelevant?” I talked about how I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue on with my coaching practice. I even admitted that it had been weeks since feeling positive and hopeful because of everything that is going on in the world. I kept thinking, “How can I be happy and follow my joy when people are suffering?”
One girlfriend put it so perfectly. She said, “How does you being unhappy help those who are suffering?” It doesn’t. And another said, “It is normal to feel sad for those who are suffering.”
I realized I get to be all of it. One thing doesn’t make up all of me.
My big question has become: “What kind of life do I want to live?”
Through the phase, what I got in return has been such a gift. You feel more complete when you share all parts of yourself. Not just the good ones.
The friends I shared with took their masks of perfection off and admitted they were feeling the same way. Instead of trying to solve each others problems, we talked, we shared, we listened, we asked each other questions, we said all the things that are usually just written in our journals or thought about in our minds.
In those sharing of stories a weight was lifted. I felt safe to take off the contagiously positive girl mask. They felt safe to express their emotions and so did I. I felt comfortable not having a vision for the future and living more in the moment. I didn’t feel the pressure of creating content and competing with an algorithm to stay relevant in my industry. I stopped worrying so much about being judged or unliked. I began to create content, like this share, that showed the real me. I fully stepped into being perfectly imperfect. It was (is) freeing!
Sharing our stories connects us in ways we don’t fully understand until we share them. Especially when we share them with people we feel safe with.
Listening gives us an insight into what others see that we cannot because we often have blinders on when it comes to our own stuff.
Asking deeper questions helps us to gain more clarity and really take stock of our life.
Taking off our masks connects us even deeper. We get to know each other, all of each other, in ways that makes us feel like we were never alone, and never will be.
My relationships our deeper now. And even the the work I do has and continues to change. When I started taking all my in person workshops and making them into digital downloads, I was more honest and vulnerable then I have ever been. I’ve always shared and taught based on my experiences so it felt good to talk about all the experiences.
I’m changing. I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m figuring out who I am without all the masks, or who everyone says I should be. I’m learning that it is safe for me to just be me. The masks I have taken off is that I always have to be happy and perfect all the time to be accepted.
And…I also get to be happy and live in joy.
We get to be and experience ALL of it.
My hope with this share is that it allows you to do the same.
JOURNAL PROMPTS + CALL TO ACTION
What masks are you wearing? Maybe it is the mask of being the funny one, the perfect one, the high achiever, the person who is always happy, or always has it together. Maybe it is multiple masks so you fit in with everyone.
Why are you wearing it? What is it protecting you from?
Who do you trust enough to begin taking off the mask, showing them all parts of you and allowing them to do the same as well?
You are never just one thing. Always remember that one part of you doesn’t make up all of you.