I retired from my corporate job last year to become a fulltime writer.
The first project that immediately consumed me was writing my first book about overcoming the fear of failure, something that had plagued me for decades.
As I started to research and pull notes together, an unlikely theme emerged (oh yes, a cathartic moment is coming, my friends!). I thought I was writing about overcoming fear but found instead that my life was actually not one of fear, but of hiding. Oh, there was some fear, but it was only a symptom of something bigger.
It was less about fear, and much, much more about truth. The truth about me. That was what I was hiding. I actually wore a mask to hide it. That was what I feared. That people would unmask me and see the real me. (Thus the title of my book changed from Overcoming the Fear of Failure to Losing the Mask!)
As a businesswoman, I looked the part. I walked the walk, talked the talk. But there was so much more. It was that ‘so much more’ part of me that I feared would be laughed at, ridiculed, not accepted, not noticed, even shunned.
I locked it all up behind that mask. For decades, people!
Even as we look around and see all these wondrous people who look like they have it all together, trust me. Most don’t.
I’ve been mentoring and life coaching for a couple of decades now, and even behind the mask that was superglued to my life, I could recognize a mask-wearer a mile away. (Now unmasked, I can look back and see even more!)
You are so not alone.
Too many of us are looking good, smelling good, talking and walking good, and dying on the inside because we have so much more to give that fear prevents us from giving. We are all bottled up behind the facade to ensure we are accepted, loved, promoted, noticed.
Feeling itchy behind your mask? Am I hitting a nerve, masquerader? Good. (And I mean that in the kindest of ways!)
There’s good news. There is.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Carole at church. She was a professional woman, an up-and-comer at her firm. Married (or so I thought), kids, attractive, well-spoken. The whole worldly package of what a ‘together’ woman looks like.
She invited me to meet her for dinner saying, cryptically, that she wanted to ‘bounce something off me.’ Thinking it was something to do with church, I gladly went, always willing to get to know another woman at a deeper level (as long as she didn’t expect the same from me!).
Carole had been raised in a Christian home. Went to church two, sometimes three, times a week. If I was a judger (which of course I am not, mostly) I would say the church she described was a wee bit right of conservative, and a huge leap too far on the legalist side for my tastes. But a Bible-believing kind of place. Her father was an elder. Her mother served on lots of hospitality committees. Carole was in Pioneer Girls, and Sunday School, and whatever else was available for kids.
The family that prays together… right?
Then the abuse started. Her father (hate to use the word ‘dad’ to describe anyone like him), began abusing her. Sexually and physically. Her mother turning a blind eye. It continued for several years, until finally, when she was 14, she ran away from home.
As a minor, she was ‘captured’ and returned to her home several times, but never once gave up the truth about the horror of living in that house. (And, sadly, no one asked, that she can remember.) By 16, she was such a ‘difficult child,’ that she was put into foster care. And the following two years were a parade of homes (and I use ‘home’ loosely here). Some were mediocre, some were worse. Both physical and sexual abuse followed her from foster to foster.
Until, the last one. The kindest one. They helped her get into a college. She never felt loved there, but at least she wasn’t being touched or hit. She was relatively safe. And they wanted her out of the house as quickly as possible, thus the college route was a viable direction.
So at 18, she escaped to college and never returned.
By this time, her faith in the God she had learned about in Sunday School was shattered. Completely. She was left with no family, no God, and no home.
But being resilient, she pulled herself up by her bootstraps, got a job. A good job. With advancement opportunities that she quickly availed herself of. She married an abusive alcoholic, had some kids, bought a house, divorced, all while continuing the upward corporate ladder climb.
She looked fine, talked fine, but was far from being fine.
By the time her kids reached junior high, she decided they needed some churching, some kind of faith. Even if she had none.
So she took her kids to a church (where we met). It was then, not so much because of the church as her emptiness, that she returned to the Bible.
She remembered her Sunday School teacher telling her, if you don’t know what to read in your Bible, the book of John was always a safe bet. So she opened her Bible to John and started to read.
And there it was. The verse that, she swears to this day, changed her direction.
I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. John 14.18
She had never considered herself an orphan until that moment. She never thought beyond getting the world to accept her. She never thought about being alone. She only thought about making a life for her kids beyond her bad decisions, beyond her past.
An orphan. Abandoned. Alone.
Carole described the ensuing few weeks of awakening, as days of anguish, of ‘relinquishing the black ooze’ that had permeated her heart and letting God clean it out.
She was removing the mask. She was finally opening up to the truth of who she is, of finding out who God had created her to be. Baggage and all.
I learned, through my deepening relationship with Carole over these last few years, that I should never, ever be fooled by someone who presents themselves as being ‘all put together’, who more than likely wears the mask that leads to the perception of mass acceptance.
Knowing Carole has taught me that we’ve all got some black ooze inside us. But we also ALL have some radiance inside us that can only be revealed if we strip away the layers, take off the masks, and let the world see the wonder that is you.
And one final thought that leaves me breathless.
Carole came to me worried that I would shun her, turn away from knowing the ‘black ooze’ that plaques her past. My heart aches just thinking about it.
When we dare to peek out from behind the masks, when we dare to peel away the layers of protection that keep our truth hidden, we can see the truth about others. Deep down, we all want to be free, to be accepted, to be known.
It’s time to live your truth. It’s time to be really real.
Just do it.
More on Diane
Believe.com is so happy to have Diane writing with us. Diane is a writer and blogger and has authored Losing the Mask: Overcoming the Fear of Failure. She lives with her husband in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has two adult children, both married, and one incredibly cute and loveable granddaughter.