The Case against Wearing a Mask
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Who you think you are is not the same as who you really are. Understanding this distinction changes everything.
/ pərsəˈnalədē /
The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character
The global pandemic has changed many things. Perhaps the most visible is the requirement to wear a mask in public. This requirement has generated a lot of debate and will likely continue to do so for some time. I have no desire to address this issue here. Rather, I’d like to focus on the mask you’ve unknowingly been wearing for most of your life.
Each of us is driven by a set of subconscious, safety-based beliefs, values, and rules that automatically drives our behavior and limits our results. I call this your program. It might as well be called a mask. In my book Master Your Code, I tell the following story of the golden Buddha.
Sometime in the twelfth or thirteenth century, a group of Thai monks commissioned the construction of a gold statue of the Buddha. For five hundred years or so, the statue remained essentially untouched, passing from generation to generation of monks. In 1767, the statue was completely plastered with a thick layer of stucco to conceal it from an invading Burmese army, which was intent on destroying anything of value. Although virtually all of the Thai monks perished in the Burmese attack, the strategy to protect the statue worked. For almost two hundred years after the invasion, the statue remained housed in a temple in Bangkok among other ruins, its true nature and value having been forgotten. Then, in 1955, the statue had to be moved to another section of the temple. During the move, the statue was accidentally dropped, cracking the stucco. Closer inspection revealed that the statue was actually made of gold. The plaster was completely removed and the statue restored to its original state. Today, the Golden Buddha shines in all its original glory, standing at more than ten feet tall, weighing over five tons, and valued at more than $250 million.
Over the course of your life, you construct beliefs about yourself that layer on top of each other. Like the Golden Buddha, these layers harden and form a protective coating – a mask – that projects an image to the world that is different from who you truly are. In many ways, the path of leading an extraordinary life consists of removing those layers. Taking off the mask. Allowing yourself and others to experience who you truly are. Not who you’ve wound up being.
It turns out that the word personality is derived from the Latin word persona, which means mask. Who you think you are – your personality – isn’t necessarily who you really are. That’s a really big distinction. It offers critical clues to understanding what stands between where you currently are in life and where you truly want to be.
I have argued that today’s crisis represents an opportunity to reassess everything, and that the opportunity must not be wasted. This is a perfect opportunity to reassess who you’ve wound up being, who you think you are. At the same time you put on a mask to protect yourself and others from the risk of infection, I invite you to remove the mask that hides your full potential. I encourage you to ask the following questions. What do I really want in life? What is it about who I’ve wound up being that is getting in the way of that vision? And what would it look like if I dropped my mask and consciously constructed a new belief about what is possible? Make no mistake. This will not be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is.
I’m watching The Last Dance, the ESPN documentary on the Chicago Bulls final championship season. It’s in the category of must-watch in my opinion, regardless of whether you’re a basketball fan. (Note: I may write about it next week)
I’m really enjoying a new app called readwise. The app connects to your Kindle and other sources and sends you a daily list of excerpts from the books and articles you’ve read and highlighted. It’s a really fun way to revisit and reconnect to the things you’ve read over time.
I loved Tim Ferris’ podcast interview of the author Michael Lewis. My favorite quote: “Now, as I’ve gotten older, I would say starting in my mid to late 20s, I could not help but notice the effect on people of the stories they told about themselves. If you listen to people, if you just sit and listen, you’ll find that there are patterns in the way they talk about themselves. There’s the kind of person who is always the victim in any story that they tell. Always on the receiving end of some injustice. They’re the person who’s always kind of the hero of every story they tell. The smart person, they delivered the clever put down there. There are lots of versions of this, and you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories because it starts to become you, that you are in the way you craft your narrative, kind of crafting your character. And so I did at some point decide, ‘I am going to adopt self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person anybody knows.’”