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Taking off the Mask

Posted by Matt Nagler, Managing Partner  

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Halloween is just around the corner and here in New England, it’s a particularly nice time of year. We’ve got beautiful weather, changing leaves and a lot of holiday enthusiasm. For my son’s first Halloween, we dressed up my oldest as a penguin.  He loved it. Until we tried to put a mask on him for the picture, then he freaked out. It was a common theme among the parents I knew; their kids loved dressing up, but they didn’t like masks.


As adults, many of us feel resigned to having to pretend to be someone we’re not on occasion and have a few masks that we pull out. Not the Halloween ones, but the ones we wear to social functions we may not be in the mood for, to our in-laws (kidding! my in-laws are a delight), and, yes, sometimes work.


People can be especially tempted to put on a mask when they’ve started a job. The pull to present yourself as something you’re not is especially strong in times of transition because it feels safe. “If I present myself as a stereotype that I know people like and respond well to, I can make this easy.” This can be the product of ingrained ideas about how we should behave and how we should present ourselves, past experiences or unexamined ideas about what we think the people we’re meeting want to see. We all want to “get it right.”


But if that mask covers too much of your real self, it’s going to get uncomfortable and will undermine you in the long run. Wearing a mask prevents you from presenting your best self  - a self you can really only tap into when you’re being the real you.


Being your best real self is the key to success at work. That means engaging with the people you meet in a way that is natural to you. Trying too hard to “fit it” will not only obscure “you,” but will stop you from being able to really engage with people. When you’re approaching work without a mask and your new boss is talking about a campaign you don’t understand, you can comfortably ask what it is instead of nodding along and pretending. It allows you to build true relationships so that when you’re asking your co-workers for help, it’s comfortable.


The best part of taking off your mask, though, is that your work stress will decrease immensely. It’s hard work keeping up a façade and it takes up not only emotional energy, but actual energy. The more you can be yourself, the more able you’ll be to focus on your job in the present instead of worrying about what you’re going to “look like” in the future.


So wear your mask this Halloween when you’re out with family and friends, but remember to take it off and be your best self when you’re back at work in the morning.