I didn’t mean to do it. And deep down, I didn’t want to do it. But for many of us, our lives are one big masquerade.
I don’t mean that we’re always walking around in Halloween costumes, or fancy ball gowns paired with little masks on a stick.
The masquerade I’m talking about is how we live our lives when we’re not really living our lives.
We’re living a life, but we’re pretending to be someone we’re not. We live how we think we should, allowing others to see only what we think they should see to maintain an image we think we need to preserve.
I’ve seen the masquerade take many forms: the accomplished career, the straight-A honors student, the idealized body shape and size. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of these things. Focusing on a career, grades, and fitness can all be part of a rewarding life. But it becomes a masquerade when it’s not who we really are.
Do you see the difference? Because this is a life-changing lesson to learn.
It’s a masquerade when we’re playing a part. Everything looks good on paper but inside it feels empty, boring, unsatisfying, even soul-numbing. For example, you get up, put on your corporate uniform, work a long day at the office, and then cry on the commute home. Or you cram your school schedule with advanced classes and extracurricular activities but you’re so exhausted you feel like a zombie. Or you count every morsel of food you put in your mouth and exercise like a maniac so you can Instagram yourself in the latest trends but you hate the constant vigilance required to live like that.
The mask we wear becomes a heavy burden and wears us down. We lose any sense of who we are because the masquerade has taken over.
And we wonder–is this all there is to life?
How did we get here? It’s not like there was a point along the way where we say, I want to live a life of quiet desperation. Even with the best of intentions, we can get off track.
When we’re young, we develop an understanding of how the world works from what we see around us. This becomes our idea of normal. What normal looks like is shaped by family, friends, community, and culture. Whether we’re told explicitly or we watch how people behave, we learn the rules and expectations of our world.
This is the root of the masquerade. We internalize ideas of how we’re expected to live our lives, what it means to be successful and even what we should look like. Our inner wisdom–the part of us that knows who we are and what lights us up–gets squashed, often before we have a chance to learn to listen.
When we follow the rules and expectations that have been set for us, we’re rewarded. We receive praise, approval, acceptance. We humans are social creatures and we don’t want to face rejection from our family, community, or circle of friends so the path of least resistance is to keep going, one step at a time, into the masquerade.
The masquerade can go on for years. But then one day, we start to realize that something needs to change. We can no longer ignore the nagging feeling that something is wrong. That the life we’ve been living is making us miserable. This is moment when the mask starts to crack.
But then what? How do we take off the mask and end the masquerade once and for all?
Start with authenticity.
Authenticity means letting go of who we think we should be and embracing who we are. It’s a simple concept but it’s not always easy to achieve, especially when we’ve been living the opposite.
But it really is the key to ending the masquerade. Letting go of the expectations you’ve been trying to live up to gives you the space to allow the real you to emerge.
What do you love to do? What makes you excited? What kind of environment feels good to you? Who are the people you want to be around? How do you want to spend your time? These questions encompass all areas of life, from work to personal relationships, spiritual growth to hobbies and leisure, and health and wellness.
You may not have answers right away. Just pay attention to what inspires your curiosity, what you want to learn more about, what feels right for you.
Then look at your masqueraded life. What parts do you dislike the most? Where can you drop something you dislike and replace it with something that authentically feels good to you? Do this over and over again and you will find that you’re replacing the mask with the real you.
Then we tell our stories.
One of the hardest parts of dropping the masquerade and embracing authenticity is that we’re no longer presenting ourselves to the world with a veneer of perfection. Social media doesn’t help. Seeing meticulously curated feeds that show only the most amazing meals, the best vacations, the trendiest looks, the happiest smiling families can make us want to run back and hide under our familiar masks.
But the truth is that everyone faces hard times and disappointments. Everyone occasionally stumbles and falls. No one’s social media feed represents the real story of their life. The more we hide the difficult parts of our lives, the more we reinforce “duck syndrome” where we all look like we’re gliding effortlessly through life while frantically scrambling under the surface.
Authenticity allows for imperfection. We can do something new or try something we haven’t yet mastered because that’s who we are in that moment. And we know we’re okay no matter how it turns out.
When we let others see our authentic self, the more easily we can connect with them and build a community of real friendship and support. As an added benefit, our authenticity encourages and helps others drop their masks and start living more authentically too.
No matter how long we’ve been living a masqueraded life, we can make a change. Starting from right here, right now, you can drop the mask and become the real you that’s been there all along. Your life is waiting for you to show up and live it!
About the author:
Pam Bauer helps people who feel bored and unsatisfied with their lives to change direction and create a life they feel good about living. Her mission is helping you uncover what you really want so you can get unstuck and move forward toward the future that’s just right for you. With the right tools and guidance, you can authentically create a life you love. Get out of a rut and on to a new path with her free six day video series: Your DIY Guide To Rutbusting.
Editor: Emily Bartran