Take off that mask – and be yourself!

Stop living your Life for others. Do what you must do in a situation not what “you” believe society wants you to do.  
Through a conversation that I had yesterday, I was reminded of a very popular movie star that I once was coaching on “reinventing” himself. At 60, this star was long past his prime when he came to me. He wasn’t getting offers to play the hero anymore. And while his contemporaries were still relevant in the movie business, by opting to play supporting and career roles, my friend was not getting offers because he was adamant that he would sign on a movie only if he was offered the lead role. The movie star’s aspiration was to “reinvent” himself and become “relevant” among the new generation of movie fans. I understood from him that his burning desire to still be seen as a “hot” and “happening” movie star had led him to lead an extravagant – clearly beyond his means – lifestyle. Since he was not getting any movie offers, he had had no income to speak of for over a decade now. He had further leveraged all his assets – that he had painstakingly built during his heydays – to borrow money to sustain his lifestyle. He had 7 luxury cars, wore only expensive designer clothes and watches, lived in a large 12-bedroom bungalow with 15 helpers, and insisted on traveling first class on foreign vacations with his family, at least twice every year. When I asked him why he needed to live this way, he said, “I honestly don’t need all this for myself. But what will people think of me if they realize that I have downsized. I need to keep the show going to stay relevant.” I disagreed. I gave him a two-step plan: “First, accept any role that comes your way where you have a chance to display your talent. That will kick-start your economic engine. Don’t insist on hero roles. Next, clean up your debt portfolio by selling off your bigger assets to settle your bigger loans. Work towards a becoming debt-free over a fixed period of time.” He vehemently opposed the advice I gave saying: “Even if I am not enjoying it, and even if I have so much stress to deal with to keep my show going, I can’t do anything that affects my public image.” After just a few weeks of beginning to coach him, I gave up the assignment. I told him: “If you continue to do the same things, you will get the same results. To reinvent yourself, you need to stop doing a few things that led you to where you are.”
My movie star friend’s story is not an exception. While, in his case, it may be a lavish lifestyle, funded by debt, that he maintains to “look good” in front of his fans and society, each of us seeks social approval and works, often in vain, for it – in our own unique ways. If we think about it deeply, when we live – in any context – for the sake of others’ opinions of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, we suffer. This is because we are going against what we personally prefer, want and enjoy – and we live wearing a mask. That mask, always, hurts.
The truth is that society really does not demand that you wear that mask or veil. It is you who think, imagine, believe that these, often unstated, social norms must be adhered to. There’s a subconscious conditioning that has happened to you, as you have grown in your career, and your Life, that you must be this way or you must be that way. Nobody told you anything specifically. But you just imagined it to be so.
And, of course, some people can be uncharitable and obnoxiously remind you if you are not following social norms. We were once invited to a banquet in a 7-star hotel. Many of the other guests were good friends – all of them successful business people, professionals, actors and sports stars. Many also knew of our financial state – our bankruptcy. One of the guests did not hide his surprise at seeing us there.
“‘Aap, yahan?’ – You, here?” – he asked.
“‘Haan. Aane ki to aukad nahin hai, lekin aaye hain kyonki bulaye gaye hain’! – Yes, we don’t have the social standing to be here. But we are here because we have been invited!” – I replied with a beaming smile.
In any situation in Life, choosing to be yourself, unmasking yourself, is the best thing to do. Nothing wrong in being nice and wanting to please others or “look good” in front of them – but the key is, are you “feeling good”, are you doing what’s right and important for you? Choosing to be yourself may well cause a few ripples in the external situation that you may be placed in. But will give you great inner peace. Now, making that choice is a personal call, and a no-brainer, right?
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