To date, I’ve had three major career changes in my life, and one minor change that lasted a short while but had a big impact on me.
I started out working in my twenties as an actress for a theatre company in South Africa, before moving to the UK and into a corporate TV role in strategy and planning. I stayed there for 9 years, moved (briefly) into guest lecturing at a film school, and then made a move into what I like to call the ‘self actualisation’ world (I can’t stand the term ‘self development) which is where I currently am now.
When I chose to move away from my short but intense career in theatre, I felt like I was taking on a new identity, donning a new mask and suit of armour as I entered into the TV world, all ratings, research, reach and competitive strategy.
I had no idea who I was in that space.
I’d come from a world that was completely different; reading scripts, auditioning, rehearsing and performing on stage in front of an audience. Like another universe, another life.
I wanted very much to fit in with my new TV colleagues and to be liked.
I worked with someone who was outwardly sweet, out-going, friendly and naive in a way that made her instantly likeable to everyone else on the floor. She was bubbly, cheerful and immensely popular; everyone enjoyed being in her company.
So, I decided, at that stage of my life, to emulate her. I, too, became ultra-friendly, sweet, out-going, bubbly. I did my very best impersonation of naivete.
And it worked.
It was a great way to attract a lot of superficial lunches and coffee dates, and a great way to circumnavigate conflict…or so I thought.
…but of course, this sense of popularity was short-lived. For me anyway.
Because I wasn’t being real.
I was being an almighty fake…even more fake than playing a character on stage.
I started to slip in the ‘naive sweet act’ as thoughts and opinions I’d squashed back into myself began to surface as anger and bitterness, and I found myself rising to conflict because – truthfully – underneath all the costumes and masks, I’ve always enjoyed a good fight.
Not fists and punches, but get me going on a cause I believe in and I don’t back down from conflict …I welcome it.
This way of being, this pretending, lead to an awful lot of internal conflict and some very unhappy moments, living a lie in order to be liked, all the while feeling terrified of being myself, in case I’d lose it all.
So, I carried this story, this ‘way of being’ with me for years, and as I found myself moving into my new career, helping people to find their voice, speak their truth and live in alignment with their deepest desires and purpose in life, I thought to myself, how can I do this work, if I’m still living with this story that I have to ‘be nice’ all the time, so people will like me?
So I stopped.
I stopped being ‘nice’ and instead, focused my energy on being real. Here’s what I learned:
Real sometimes looks messy; real sometimes works from confidence and self-belief, and other times slips into self-doubt and judgement; real speaks up when boundaries are crossed.
Real is open about needing help when help is needed and is clear about expectations; real doesn’t shy away from walking away from relationships that are draining and depleting.
Real isn’t about being ‘nice’, but is always about integrity.
So, my question to you today is this:
Where in your life are you wearing a mask?
What stories are you carrying with you today, about how you ought to be in order to be perceived a certain way, and how long-overdue is the sell-by date on those stories?
Here’s to unmasking and unfolding together.