I entered college pre-med biology. Four years went by and I graduated with a bachelors degree in English writing and rhetoric.
Needless to say, the identity I had entered college with was second-guessed and shaken multiple times. For example, I had looked at my roommate’s life and wanted to implement her characteristics of tidiness, planning, and dedication to schoolwork as my own. I wanted her four-year (and then some) plan, and when I realized it wasn’t in me to create one, I felt insecure instead of realizing that not everyone takes the same road to reach a destination.
For a moment, I saw the person I should be and the person I clearly wasn’t all at once. What is it that causes us to question our entire integrity based not on our own attributes, but on the ones we lack when compared to someone else?
What life can be for so many of us is a perpetual Halloween. Too often we look in the mirror and wonder why our faces don’t resemble the blemish-free, porcelain models in magazine ads or why making our own four-year plans prove to be difficult. Too often, we compare our salary or job with that of our friends and gasp at how “wrong” we are doing it. And so, we tend to trade costumes and masks to play with the idea of being someone else.
There are both pros and cons to wearing a metaphorical mask. On the one hand, pursuing attributes you see in someone else can push you to open up in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Let’s say a co-worker is extremely organized. You hear dings coming from her phone of reminders, see sticky notes on her laptop of “To-Do’s,” and a planner that sits open on her desk. So, you decide to try at the dings, sticky notes, and planner regimen. What you find after a week is that you never remember to set your reminders and sticky notes aren’t that sticky. What you also find is that keeping a planner has brought you a sense of calm from seeing your week all in one place. You tried on the metaphorical mask of your co-worker, and came away with your own interpretation of its features.
Too often, we compare our salary or job with that of our friends and gasp at how ‘wrong’ we are doing it.
On the other hand, it can be overwhelming to try your hand at new things or play at being someone else. Maybe your friend found the love of her life at age 20, was engaged by 22 and married by 23. Meanwhile, you’ve been single during her entire courtship and don’t seem to have any prospects on the rise. If you were to try on her “mask” you might think yourself inadequate or inexperienced. In fact, trying on her mask may occupy your thoughts to the point where you miss the cute boy smiling at you at your local coffee shop. To control the con of inward critiquing or comparing, remind yourself of your originality. Instead of obsessing over why your path doesn’t look like someone else’s, come to terms with the beautiful idea that we are all unique; no two people are the same and, therefore, no two paths are.
Often times, when we look to someone else’s life, we see aspects or qualities that are different from our own experiences, and we tend to label those as something we lack. In reality, what you and others around you are experiencing are different vantage points. There is nothing you “don’t have” or “have more of,” you simply have a unique view of the experience at hand and make original choices based on that fact. The reason you may be unmarried while your best friend is, for example, is because you aren’t attracted to the same qualities in a partner as she is. You saw what’s-his-face’s hair as messy instead of cute.
Identity can be a tricky thing, and it’s okay if it’s Halloween for you for months at a time. Trying out characteristics displayed in those around you can be exhilarating and purposeful. Perhaps you dearly appreciate the empathy your mother displays or the punctuality of your desk mate at the office. Incorporating the different values and morals we are exposed to is how we explore our identity and create new facets of it.
Rather than just playing a role, we can find a sense of purpose from intentionally shifting our views to understand another’s. Remember, at the end of the day once the comparisons, critiques or challenging viewpoints are cast away, you are uniquely you and can make a lasting impact because of it.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the road less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. –Robert Frost
What “masks” have been helpful for you? Is there a “mask” you’re trying to wear that you need to take off?
Image via Tory Rust