The Masks We Wear and Honoring Who’s Behind Them

How can we, as women, make sure we don’t lose ourselves as we try to be so many things to so many people?

Welcome to a new monthly column from Jenn Lisak Golding, the president and CEO of Sapphire Strategy here in Indianapolis—the marketing agency who helps us out with many things, including our beautiful website. She will offer up her unique insights into the multi-faceted lives we all live as women and ways we can explore them.  

Do you ever feel like you have to be “on” all the time? Like you have to put your best foot forward every second of every day for everyone but ultimately feel disconnected from yourself? If you’re anything like me, then you probably answered with a resounding yes. 

I learned from an early age that showing myself, my true self, to everyone was not an option, or at least not one that was going to feel comfortable. As a teenager, I enjoyed a lot of things, including things that were considered “nerdy” at the time. (Prime example: My best friend and I met at Shakespeare camp when we were 14. Yes, you read that right. And yes, it was super fun. #noregrets) Since I was shy, I shared my true interests with friends, but rarely outside of a trusted group. 

When I was in high school, I made the dance team and felt as though I could expand my trusted group to the young women who were on the team. I have a vivid memory of sharing something I enjoyed and being told—not only by one of the more influential girls in the group but also the coach—“that’s not who we are.” I was immediately deflated and felt as though I had to hide pieces of myself to be accepted. That experience led me to become a lot more guarded throughout college and as a young woman. 

Some say that you truly don’t know who you are until you’re about 25, but the experiences you have when you’re young have a poignant impact on how you view the world. It was clear to me from a young age that showing my true colors was only going to be saved for a trusted few. As a result, I found myself creating “masks” for different parts of my life. I still find myself doing it today.

In my professional life, I’m a business owner who is passionate about what I do, my team, being well-respected, and making an impact in the community I live and work in. I think many would say that I work hard, am serious about my career, and am pragmatic. Day to day, even when I feel the weight of the world, I typically keep my cool, find solutions, and can be ready for anything. I have to be financially, emotionally, and strategically responsible since the livelihoods of seven people rest on my shoulders. 

On the flip side, I’m an intensely spiritual person who believes in the power of the universe, buys WAY too many crystals, and reads Tarot on an almost daily basis. On the weekends, I love to binge my favorite fandoms (Harry Potter, Marvel, Star Wars), play video games, maybe play Magic the Gathering (cue nerd alert) with my husband, and watch animated movies (can’t wait to see Raya and the Last Dragon.) Pragmatism doesn’t command my personal life like it does my professional one. Facts don’t drive all my decisions; my intuition does. But I don’t find myself hiding parts of who I am as much in my personal life as I do in my professional life—and that’s coming from someone who owns a business. 

What clients and partners don’t always know about me is that I have this whole other side that I’m just as passionate about as my business. What my employees don’t always see is, after a really long day, I could come home, take the mask off, and unexpectedly have a meltdown from the stress, even if I seemed like a perfectly cool cucumber during the day. What friends and family don’t realize is that I am constantly analyzing how I can be the best friend I can be and fear I’m never doing enough, while also weighing a huge amount of responsibility as a business owner. Having spoken with many women business owners, I know I’m not alone in feeling the need to shelter parts of myself from others. 

As women, I feel like we feel the need to wear masks A LOT. I’m generalizing here, but I expect most want to be well-respected, but also well-liked at work. We want to be a fun friend but also one that can be counted on. We want to be a great romantic partner who’s responsible, but also be seen as sexy and desirable. While I can’t speak from experience, I imagine most parents want to be responsible and set their kids up for success, but they also want to develop great friendships with their kids as they grow up.

All of the things we want to be can feel like they are competing with each other. How do we manage the duality of these things while also being true to ourselves? Or do we say screw it and forget the masks altogether? In my experience, that’s easier said than done.

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I’d like to share a few lessons that I’ve learned from mentors, family, and friends: 

—The only opinions that matter are the ones you give power to. Forget the haters and don’t put on a show for them. Be yourself truly and fully with those you respect and love.  

—Wearing masks can be emotionally exhausting. Find ways to meld your true self and the masks you wear more and more over time so they don’t feel so heavy. 

—What do you most appreciate about yourself? What do others most appreciate about you? Those traits should never be hidden. They are what bring you to life! 

The truth is that we will likely always wear masks in some capacity; it’s part of human nature (and can be a coping mechanism, but more on that later). But what we want to avoid is losing the person behind the mask—the person we really are. You are a strong, intelligent, beautiful, independent, vibrant, and fascinating person—no mask should ever dim that. 

How are you going to be true to the person behind the masks you wear?

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