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Why you should mask less


Freckled woman in decorative straw hat and mirrored aviator sunglasses holds a fan over her face. Photographer reflected in sunglasses.
Photo by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash

If you’re neurodivergent, female, BIPOC or a combination thereof, it’s likely you expend a lot of energy keeping up a mask that assures your acceptance and/or keeps others comfortable.


How much of your day is spent hiding who you really are?

 

Preserve Your Energy

 

After my autism diagnosis, like many autistics, I had to begin navigating questions of how, how much and whether to unmask.


  • Part of me was really comfortable with the mask. I made myself easy-going, witty, helpful to a fault and generally spineless.

  • No surprise, I also struggled with having enough energy to get through the day. It got to the point where I’d crash regularly, lost interest in my passions and felt half-dead, longing for bedtime then struggling to sleep at night.

 

Once it became clear how much masking drove my life-sucking cycle, the choice to start unmasking was a no-brainer: I wanted to feel alive again. The question was, How much can I afford to unmask? 


I didn’t know what I’d find beneath the layers of masks I’d honed, but I feared I’d be terribly awkward, angry and not at all likeable. I knew I’d be at least partly rejected by many of the people closest to me. I worried I’d forever hijack my career prospects: With my mask, I’d learned to make money and keep a robust social calendar; I just couldn’t manage to sustain any of it for very long.

 

It would oversimplify the conundrum to call it a crisis of confidence. More confidence would have done nothing for me but give me yet another mask to wear. Instead it was a crisis of self-knowing. This is the price paid by outliers who live in a culture that fixates on and condemns the unusual.

 

Connect and Belong as Who You Really Are

 

Here's the truth: A lot of my fears were well-founded. Now that I’m nine months into my experiments in unmasking, I can affirm that I’ve lost friends and fundamentally changed my closest relationships. I’m overall “too much” for most of the people, just as I suspected.


But what I didn’t expect was to discover new people who aren’t overwhelmed by me, who don’t prefer me small and who like me for who I really am. And while it’s frustrating to see old relationships change or fade away, it is absolutely life-giving to experience acceptance at a deeply authentic level.

 

I also didn’t expect unmasking to be such a one-way street: There’s no going back to how I used to be because I can’t even remember how to wear those masks anymore. Turns out, I prefer my authentic self over those bright, shiny masks.

 

So if you want more authentic and fulfilling relationships but you feel the weight of the social risks ahead, trust that you’re right: The risks are real. But keep your eyes on the prize: You’ll attract people into your life who love the real you, not masked one who hollows you out and robs you of energy.

 

See Your Fullest Potential

 

The next gift of a less-masked life happens when you discover that your potential is bigger than anyone allowed you to believe. Even if you grew up being told how talented, smart or gifted you are, I promise that what others see in you pales in comparison to discovering your real, authentic purpose. As you start hearing your voice over the pressures to conform or obey, you feel free to reach higher than your mask ever allowed you to reach.

 

  • When I was in high school, I thought “dreaming big” meant wanting to be a band teacher someday. It’s what others wanted for me. If someone told me then that I’d help elect a U.S. President, I wouldn’t have had space in my head to digest such information.

 

  • Fast forward to my 30s, and I thought “dreaming big” meant making six figures and leading a team. If someone told me I would burn out and start my own business instead, I would have laughed at you.

 

  • Now, in my 40s, I have a different, self-defined version of what “dreaming big” looks like, and even though it feels radical and scary, I admit this dream is remarkably close to what I wanted most when I was a young child. Turns out, I knew myself best before I learned to hear everyone else’s “shoulds.”

 

Without the mask to hide behind, I feel pulled along a path toward my dreams. Momentum is on my side because I’m finally aligned with the purpose I’m meant to serve in the world. Resources show up when I need them. People show up with messages that confirm my hunches. And literal signs dot my path to say I’m exactly where I need to be.

 

Is unmasking worthwhile?


  • If I hadn’t started to unmask, I wouldn’t have seen my wider potential. I’d still be striving against my true needs to sell services others can get elsewhere for cheap.


  • Unmasked, I now know exactly what makes me uniquely essential – no competition necessary. I just have to show up, fully, honestly and generously.

 

Unmasking is totally worth it, no matter how slow you need to go. The world needs the real you more than it needs the version of you who is comfortable, easy-going and likeable. The real question is: Are you ready to start fully showing up?

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