Dropping the Mask

overwhelm Jun 28, 2024
Woman removing her mask

“I try to bring my authentic self and be vulnerable, but how do we find other people who are willing to drop the mask?”

I stared at this short, wonderful email for longer than I’d care to admit, partly, if I am honest, because I wanted to offer this person a solution. My ego loves to offer solutions. It believes that if I can fix another person’s problem, then I have value. But the more I stared, the more it became clear that there is no solution, or none that I could give anyway, because the question longs for a people who don’t exist or, at least, not in the way we imagine they might. 

We often talk about the people ready to drop the mask as if they are some magical community living just beyond the world we know. If only we could find these people, we would find what we are longing for. But we are the people we are longing for—me, you, everybody. We are the people of the magical community.  

The person who wants to drop the mask is probably sitting right next to us, but they are waiting for us to make the first move, for us to open the space and be vulnerable, for us to give them a reason to trust. It is probably less of an “us finding them” and more of allowing them to find us. 

Of course, I don’t mean that everyone in our circle is waiting to drop the mask. Most people are not ready, but in all likelihood, a handful of people we know are. So, instead of asking how do we find these people, we might ask, “Am I ready to be found? Am I ready to drop the mask?”

I am so grateful for this wonderful email because it started me thinking about self-awareness, personal values, and how understanding ourselves allows us to interact more authentically and empathetically with others. 

Thank you for everyone’s response to my last letter. You are so insightful. I love reading your comments.


Dr. Tasha Eurich, writing for the Harvard Business Review, distinguishes between internal self-awareness (how clearly we see our own values, passions, and aspirations) and external self-awareness (understanding how others see us) while reminding us that both are necessary for building meaningful relationships. 

Self-awareness serves as the foundation for trust, empathy, and effective communication. When we understand our own emotions and motivations, we're better equipped to express our needs and understand the needs of others.

We all know people we cannot trust with our vulnerable selves based on their self-awareness. Someone who is not self-aware will be unable to hold the space we need. And we all know people we can turn to in times of need. It can feel like the ability to trust or not trust these people has to do with their character, but self-awareness is not a fixed state. Longitudinal studies on mindfulness have found that individuals who engaged in regular self-reflection and sought feedback from others showed significant improvements in self-awareness in relatively short amounts of time. 

So, while some people appear naturally self-aware, it is also a skill that all of us can improve over time, provided that we engage in regular practice becoming more familiar with our internal values—which are not only about identifying our thoughts and feelings but also understanding their origins and impacts—and seek honest reflection from others who can help us understand how we are perceived. This deeper level of awareness allows us to make conscious choices about our behaviors and reactions rather than being driven by unconscious patterns or impulses.

This is important because if we are going to be a part of the magical community, it helps to know that there is a practice that can bring it into existence.

Clarifying Our Values

When we are more self-aware, we can make decisions better aligned with our core values. This seems obvious enough, but we all have seen people make decisions that seem to run contrary to what they say are (and what we believe to be) their core values…which means we must also be at risk of behaving similarly. Many of the problems we can see in the world can be traced back to the misalignment of self-awareness and values. This leads to, among other things, unhealthy relationships, susceptibility to external pressure, ethical lapses, inauthenticity, and (bringing us back to the purpose of these letters) reduced resilience, leaving us open to being overwhelmed by the world around us. If we are unsure of who we are or what we stand for, we are susceptible to the whims of our surroundings. 

Exploring our values through intentional practices designed to bring us into a deeper sense of self-awareness is not just about personal growth; it is a powerful tool for positive societal change. As we become more attuned to our core beliefs and motivations, we are better equipped to act as authentic, compassionate members of society.

Step one on the path to the Magical Community

The last few letters have asked you to respond to what was in the letter, but this time, I’d like to take it a step further. I’d like you to ask someone else the following three questions. You don’t have to tell me the answers (unless you want to), but I’d love to hear about your experience listening to these answers and how it informs your self-awareness. 

Please don’t overthink it. Just ask someone you trust enough to give you honest answers. Maybe your partner, kids, parents, good friend. But be intentional. Ask for 3 minutes of their time and attention. This could be in person or over the phone. Here are the three questions:

  1. Can you give me an example of a time when my actions clearly reflected my values?
  2. Have you ever seen me compromise my values? If so, how did that make you feel?
  3. How do my values inspire or challenge you in our friendship/relationship?

When you’re finished, please hit reply, and I will share my answers with you. Yup, I’m going to do this exercise too…so if you want to know what I learned, you have to share also. :)

xo, Ian

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