As far back as I can remember, I have treasured authenticity. My grandfather served as an elected officer for the State of California for 30 years, so growing up, my grandmother and mother demanded that we learn how to behave in polite company. Before most of my peers knew how to cut with a knife and fork, my siblings and I knew the proper table settings for fish forks and dessert spoons, bread plates, coffee and wine glasses, and the order in which people in the United States and Europe serve multi-course meals. By age 5, we could shake hands with the best of them and meet our counterpart’s eye, and by age 7, we could toss in just the right nod or smile or simple question to appear engaged while a policy wonk droned on about the economic benefits of some obscure legislative measure.
At home, my mother believed in kids behaving like kids. We painted our naked limbs and ran around the back yard playing monster. When we did not have company for dinner, I ate with my fingers. My sister loved sitting at the table with her legs curled in her chair. My brother elbowed me with alacrity. This permission to shed the heavy masks of politeness that we wore for company reassured me that it was okay to show my true colors at home. But it also taught me that I needed to hide my authentic personality in public.
So many of us put on our work masks every day. We take them off at home. Increasingly, the mask we wear at home starts resembling the work mask. At some point, many of us realize that we are losing the distinction between our authentic selves and our work persona. This tragic loss wakes us up. Maybe we want to change. But how? Is it too late?
If you find yourself here, carve out some quiet me-space in your Saturday or Sunday morning. Sit alone with yourself for a while. Spend that time pondering your dreams for yourself in third, fourth and fifth grade. What did you love doing more than anything else? What did you think you would grow up to be? What did you want for your future self? Write it down.
Shut that gremlin in the closet when s/he tells you that you were overly naive then, or you can’t have whatever you wrote down because you have gone down a different path for too long, or when the gremlin makes some other limiting comment. This is a judgment-free space.
- What pieces of these dreams do you want for yourself now?
- Which ones can you incorporate into your life now?
- What would that do for you?