The ‘20s (the last two years, not the Roaring) have not been years for getting all dressed up.
For one, who has the time and mental energy to perfect our appearance when it seems the whole world is crumbling in more ways than one? And for two, no one really had anywhere to go!
Like many, I’ve spent most of that time in sweatpants or pajamas—at least on my bottom half during virtual business calls. That experience is so common that many commercials, memes, and comedy routines mock the hazards of our “split personalities” when it comes to attire.
So often our top-half and bottom-half are playing different characters adorning a single body.
Case in point: Recently, I had an actual in-person meeting and enjoyed putting on a nice outfit, make-up, and styling my hair. What a relief to be joining the grown-up world again.
When I walked into the kitchen, my pre-school daughter exclaimed, “Mommy, I love your costume!” (Kids have a way of keeping it real.) And she’s right -- it had been a while since I’d made a grown-up effort. It certainly was a costume and, in many ways, continues to be a costume I put on... a mask.
At first, the terminology of a mask has an unpleasant connotation, an almost sinister tone. And this can be true (like faking a side of yourself, being “two-faced,” or behaving inauthentically). But my daughter got me thinking about the many good, productive ways we might wear costumes in the world. We’re used to referring to these as the different hats we wear.
Some costumes (or hats, or masks) we put on help us to enter a story we want to be a part of. For example, certain costumes aid us in presenting ourselves in a workplace or other public sphere. These costumes make us feel good, uplift us, and help us step fully into the role we are meant to play in that space. At given times, I play the roles of mother, wife, daughter, consultant, speaker, or community leader. Each assumes a different mindset and behaviors depending on which costume is in charge. I clean up my language as a professional, I sweeten it as a mom, and most honestly reveal it as a wife and friend.
But the reason I am leaning more towards full “costume” terminology rather than “hats” or “masks” is because, these days, it seems that the different parts of us are doing more. We are wearing complete, full-body costumes. It’s not just our heads and faces that are involved in the rotating roles we play—it’s our entire body, mind-set, and emotional state.
In this pandemic world, our lifestyles seem heightened. When I’m down, I easily fall into despair (imagine the Greek mask of Tragedy). When I feel a wave of optimism, I’m practically giddy (enter the Comedy chorus). Like the variety of emotions experienced in the pandemic flux syndrome I described last week, the rotating cast of characters in my Covid version of Halloween can become overwhelming.
At the same time, the disruption of my typical routine (and professional roles) during the past two years has required that I try on new costumes as alternative ways of showing up in the world. I’ve added the cloaks of author, speaker, and blogger to my metaphorical wardrobe.
Like most makeovers, these new outfits felt awkward, even fraudulent, at first. They were uncomfortable in some ways and surprisingly freeing in others. I’d sometimes catch a glimpse of myself in one of these new roles and not recognize myself. I had to remind myself that the true me is the same -- but the external packaging presents a different persona to the outside world.
Ultimately, our goal should be to embrace and grow into our new and varying roles, so that our costumes feel less like a disguise, and more like an expanded wardrobe.
Costumes that hide our real identities may be fun for Halloween, but they are draining and duplicitous in our real world. So I encourage you to look at your costumes. Look at your hats and masks and get-ups, and pull away the veneer for any that feel inauthentic.
Keep the costumes that fuel you. But when you find the ones that shield the authentic you from the world, expose them. This can be a lot scarier than disguising ourselves, which is not a bad thing.
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