Mask at work

How Dropping Your Masks Helps You Thrive at Work

Tell me… Do you have a “work self” and “home self? Most do! It’s our work persona – the mask of who we think we should be. In fact, many of us wear masks for all kinds of situations; in relationships, our community, with our families and more. But the work persona is probably the more well known, and the one we find easiest to justify.

Our work persona may be determined, driven or other qualities linked to professionalism. We sacrifice other compelling, quirky or intriguing aspects ourselves in order to keep up appearances and fit in.

The thing is… you only have one true authentic self! The self that is fully you and aligned with what you truly believe in.

Trying to split yourself into different personas is exhausting. You spend the bulk of your energy maintaining these “selves” to please others or gain approval instead of cultivating a whole self that is joyful and fulfilling and feels good for you. Many people think they can separate themselves for different aspects of their lives. You can for a certain amount of time. But, the truth is, you are one person. Eventually, compartmentalizing your whole self into different categories backfires if we are not aligned with who we really are. 

The result? Misery. Exhaustion. Sickness. Conflict. Stress. An internal struggle that eats you up, leaving your soul yearning for something else.

And it’s pervasive. Entire work cultures form around unconscious commitments to keep up appearances in order to be accepted and valued. Work atmospheres become bleak, heavy and stressful. People may get their jobs done, but there’s a huge sacrifice when we stifle our true selves.

That sacrifice? Happiness. And, as a byproduct of unhappiness, creativity, ingenuity, engagement, enthusiasm, collaboration and all those wonderful qualities that take businesses to the next level and that come to the surface when we show up as our true and best selves.

Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I was working in a startup environment that was struggling financially. The energy in the building felt heavy and gloomy.

At the time, I was working with a shaman who told me that if you’re always feeling down, sluggish or unwell in a space, it may be due to stagnant negative energy that needs to be moved out.

Or smudged out.

Have you ever seen someone waving a smoking bunch of leaves or wood around a room? That’s smudging. It’s an ancient practice based on the idea that energy can stagnate and certain types of smoke, used in particular ways, can move that energy out and invite positive energy in. You can read about it here.

It’s something I believe in. But, I know many are skeptical of alternative practices or think they’re downright crazy, so I had never brought that part of myself to work.

And I also believed smudging could improve the energy of the building. So one morning, I headed into work early to perform a smudging ceremony before anyone arrived.

There I was, with a lit candle and a palo santo stick, when in walked one of the company founders! The shock on both our faces. I blurted out, “I’m just removing negative energies so we can have a more harmonious and abundant workplace.”

He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “OK… We’re having a big meeting with potential investors this morning, so I need to go prepare.”

Oh no.

What had I done? I finished the ceremony and started my workday wondering what he must think.

A few hours later, he came by and said, “Melissa, whatever witchcraft you’re doing, keep doing it!”

That was unexpected! 

He continued, “Our meeting went so well. The investors agreed to give us $150 000 to start and more if we meet certain targets.”

Oh my! I was so happy, so excited, so relieved.

Yes, it went around the office that I was into crazy stuff, but people just laughed and told me to ensure I smudge before important meetings!

Wow. I was brave enough to do something different, which had the potential to backfire, but instead, it yielded great results. Even better, it felt fully, truly, authentically ME. 

From that day on, even though people thought I was odd and unconventional, they said they always got a good vibe around me and trusted that I was putting out good energy and intentions.

I gradually started putting more of myself forward every day.

Dropping that “work self” and showing up as truly me was thrilling. It brought me to a level I had never imagined and created joy for myself, the people around me and the company. It opened a new way of being and possibilities I had never imagined.

Did smudging change the business? Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that the moment I stopped wasting energy on appearances and let my uniqueness shine, I was energized to do better and it had a powerful ripple effect on everyone around me. When you work with your strengths, with what is truly you, you are not only happier, you are more creative, productive and engaged in everything you do.

Ask yourself:

“What unique contribution or essence of me would I love to bring forward? Am I doing it?”

If so, great! If not, ask…

“What’s holding me back?”

Face your fears head on, so they have no power over you and won’t hold you back from bringing out your best self.

Now ask… 

“What do I need to do to bring this part of me forward?” 

Do you need to speak with a manager/HR…coach… therapist… healer… someone… or is it a matter of setting the intention to do something of your own, every day? For example, you might share an idea you would normally hold back, proactively ask for feedback, recognize a coworker’s efforts, spend 20 minutes on a side project, request a meeting with your manager to talk about your goals or what you want to bring forward, start a vision board, do a walking meditation at lunch… take yourself outside your comfort zone in a way that is aligned with your values and strengths.

Then ask… 

“What will I do and by when will I do it?” Perhaps have an accountability partner to support you with this.

Whatever you’re stifling under that persona, whether at work or in another area of life, it will drain your happiness. Happiness is rarely considered necessary for achieving goals but, without it, we have no drive; nothing fueling us and propelling us forward. What’s inside you is your greatest strength. Whatever fuels you, excites you, bring it forward! Share it! It’s part of who you are! Don’t hide it! Usually, what we hide is what we most need to bring forward.

There is no “work you” and “home you”. There is only one you and you are more powerful than you know. You can make any conversation or situation shift. It’s a matter of facing your fears, digging into courage, dropping that mask and letting the best, most unique parts of yourself show.

This is the only way to attract the right people and opportunities to you, to feel fulfilled, to truly thrive. Remember the words of Meryl Streep: “What makes you different or weird, that is your strength.”

If you would like guidance and support in dropping your “work self” or in helping your employees bring their authentic selves forward at work, connect with me. Let’s make this happen!