Sometimes a line in a book just sticks. A while back I was reading comedian and prolific tweeter Stephen Fry’s memoir The Fry Chronicles and came across his confession that behind “the mask of security, ease, confidence and assurance I wear (so easily that its features often lift in to a smirk that looks like complacency and smugness)…is the real condition of anxiety, self-doubt, self-disgust and fear in which much of my life is lived.”

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Many others have made similar statements in various memoirs and interviews. Michelle Pfieffer once told a journalist, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.” Fraud complex, hey. I’ve written about it before. I used to have a gnarly case of it and a particularly rigid mask, too.

We all waltz about in masks and yet few of us knows what we’re doing. As in truly knows. But all of us wants to know we’re not alone in our non-knowing. We put up these seductive fronts, while trying to find chinks in other people’s, so we can see their truth and compare and cross-reference and feel less alone in our blundering-alongness. It’s why we love it when celebrities stuff up a marriage or make a bad business decision or we see pictures of them on the beach in bikinis looking, well, like us.

I don’t reckon it’s anything too nasty, nor is it schadenfreude. I think it’s relieved connection.

I don’t know what I’m doing. But as I’ve let my mask slip on this front (really, only in the past two years or so) I’ve got comfortable within myself with the not-knowing. It’s a far more freeing space to be in. It allows me more time and space and emotional energy to flay around and pursue something closer to a “knowing”.

Does this make sense? Do you have a line in a book, or a similar mask slippage moment that’s helped you?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • John

    My mask can be useful to wear when confronted with all the other masks. It allows me to operate in the world.

    In the past I didn’t know I had it on – the mask was wearing me! It is so liberating to be able to take it off at times. The next stage is to try to leave it off all the time. It is sometimes scary to be naked…

  • Linsey

    Sarah, yes, so true. It take so much strength to be vulnerable, open and real, particularly when you’re in the public eye as you are. I remember when you wrote about eating two chocolate croissants whilst holidaying in Europe and it just about broke the internet. Up until that point you seemed so perfect to me, so I was glad to know that if I lapsed in my sugar quitting I could just get back on the horse again. But some responses were downright nasty. It’s nice to read that you try to see these things as wanting to feel connected to others as we go about our confused messy lives, because sometimes I see it as baying for blood! The way I termed this feeling of not knowing what the hell we’re doing for my own blog post on a similar topic recently was: “I’m like a state government funded freeway upgrade: you see the 40km/h road work speed limit signs, but the road workers and their equipment are nowhere in sight. I am a work in progress with no discernible completion date”. Thank you for what you do.

  • I’ve definitely noticed your willingness in recent times to not have all the answers. To throw an idea or two out there and see what gets thrown back. And I think it’s ace.

    I think the key to vulnerability and the wonderful connection that comes from it is being safe in the knowledge that no one has all the answers and that we’re all ‘faking it’ in one way or another 🙂

  • Angela Colson

    Yes! Just read ‘Comfortable with Uncertainty’ by Pema Chodron. I recommend it if taking down your mask is where you are at 🙂

  • Dean Preston

    A favourite of mine from the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is clear and simple: “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your
    treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have
    learned along the way can make sense.”

  • Jo ChunYan

    This is so true – I can definitely relate to this. I guess it’s human nature in a way to want to show only the best side / strongest side of ourselves – perhaps it goes back to the theory of survival of the fittest and those who look like they weak will be less likely to survive.

    It takes so much courage for us to finally drop our masks and let others see us for who we really are. Over that last 18 months, it is something that I have become very aware of. It has really opened me up for a different way of living – to the point where I have changed jobs, friendship groups and relationships in order to shed my mask. At the moment, I am still finding that this new vulnerable way of living can be scary and lonely. However, I know that this is just one step in the process to being my own truth! Thank you for a thought provoking article!

  • Mary FitzGerald

    As always Sarah, you are spot-on! My mask is my pair of glasses. I’ve had to wear them since the age of 14 (short-sightedness), and I hide behind them. I am only just learning to allow them to be removed (at age 57!), during conversations with my new, significant other! It is liberating!

  • Been straddling the line between journo and blogger, not quite fitting in my old world or the new one. Made the decision recently to let the old journo mask slip a bit and embrace a more personal writing style. Awkward but liberating. Thanks for your generosity.

  • Yes!

  • Charlotte Saayman

    I love it, thank you for your honesty. The older we get, the more I think Im suppose to know what I want and be an expert yet, the more I learn, know and read the less I know what I want to do. The world expects us to know what we doing and be successful as we get older.

  • rachmonkey

    I highly recommend Brene Browns ‘Daring Greatly: How the courage the be vulnerable transforms our lives’. An inspiring, easy to read book based on years of research by this wonderful researcher. Her Tedx Houston talk (online) is a great little synopsis if you’re not a reader. Funny too..

  • Simon

    ‘I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination- indeed, everything and anything except me’…

  • This is great 🙂 Reminds me of something I recently read:

    “Many of us spend time and energy trying to be something that we are not. But this is a move against soul, because individuality rises out of the soul as water rises out of the depths of the earth. We are who we are because of the special mix that makes up our soul. In spite of it’s archetypal, universal contents, for each individual the soul is highly idiosyncratic. Power begins in knowing this special soul, which may be entirely different from our fantasies about who we are or who we want to be.” ~Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

  • My current fave lines come from Brene Brown: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your holy ground.”

  • Emma

    I’ve also heard this known as the ‘imposter syndrome’. I’ve experienced it on many occasions. Kristen Neff’s work along with other people in the field of developing self-compassion has been helpful for me. In particular the concept of common humanity, remembering that others experience this too, helps me to feel less isolated when I have thoughts like this.

  • Marie

    “There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
    (T.S. Eliot)
    Yep, gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

  • True Blue

    I have met a few famous and not so famous people in my time, and what I’ve found is, we are no different. We all want to be liked, loved. We are all vulnerable, and only show a little bit to protect ourselves. The more famous you become, more is the desire to protect one self. An American actor famously said, “there are those in the media, and the rest civilians.”

  • maria

    Sarah I was listening to an interview where you said you’ve dealt with blood sugar issues. Can you talk more about that? I’ve suffered from hypoglycemia and I am curious on that topic of blood sugar regulation. I have hashimoto’s too

  • Genna

    David Rakoff’s whole book called Fraud is hilarious and beautiful and really made me realize that other people grapple with the feeling that they’re just winging it.

    I also remember reading a cartoon when I was a teenager saying that under the water, any swan is likely paddling like hell.