Thursday, February 15, 2007

Peeling Away the Masks


Last week, I started wearing my earrings again for the first time in nearly three years. I had still worn them occasionally during that time, but I had not worn them on a daily basis, and especially not at the gym. When I was first hired, the then-manager directed my boss to ask me to remove them, which I did. The current manager doesn't care at all as long as they aren't offensive or gaudy.

Today a gym member that I talk to frequently stopped me and asked if they were something new. He thought that it was a whole different image that didn't fit with what he had thought about who I am. He thought, and I suspect many others think this as well, that I was as "conservative as they come," to use his phrase. I assured him that there is no truth in that assumption.

But as I have since been thinking about it, that is exactly the image I had been portraying at the gym. In order to fit into what I assume the dominant culture to be among members (largely conservative, especially those who can afford to buy training), I have hidden myself behind a mask that bears no resemblance to who I really am.

A couple of months ago, I made a decision that I wanted to reclaim parts of myself that I had buried, for a number of reasons, and hidden behind false masks. I want to stop wearing those masks -- many of which I adopted as a reflex to the more rigid culture of Tucson (as opposed to Seattle, where I had lived for more than nine years prior) when I moved down here.

Some of them were also adopted as part of my last relationship -- not because she asked me to or put any pressure on me to do so, but unconsciously -- to make her feel more comfortable with our differences. It seemed to be an appropriate choice for that relationship, but it wasn't who I am. And please understand that it was completely my doing and that I don't blame her at all.

Over the last ten or more years, I gave up large parts of who I am to accommodate other people. How foolish is that? How could I ever expect to be happy if I am not true to who I am?

Well, I wasn't happy.

A close friend has been making profound changes in her life -- some of them very painful -- in an effort to be happy. She has inspired me to do the same, although none of my changes are as challenging as what she is dealing with.

We all deserve to be happy. But when we force ourselves into situations that do not fit who we are, that happiness can seem terribly elusive. Wearing false masks that become unexamined self-projections is certainly not a way to be happy.

So, I am wearing my earrings again. It might cost me some business, but I suspect it might get me some clients who feared I was some ultra-conservative hardass. I am willing to take that risk.

I'm making changes in other areas as well, including my physique. My goal is to be as fit as I have ever been in my life by the time I turn 40 in a couple of months -- and I am well on my way. I've dropped several percentage points of bodyfat and a few pounds overall. I had avoided being too fit in the past for a variety of reasons, none of them good.

I could go on, but I would only bore you with the minutiae of my life.

All of this is an effort to be authentically me -- as much as that is possible at this moment. I am at the beginning of a new adventure in my life, and I want to show up and be present for the journey -- wherever it takes me. What better way to embrace the journey than to peel away the masks and be as vulnerable as possible?


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