I was reading Brené Brown again the other morning as I was eating scrambled eggs with avocado.

Brené (I don’t actually know her so as to be on a first name basis, but like to pretend I do) was talking about barriers to vulnerability.

She was talking about masks. The masks we wear.

The things that we put on, so that we look like the personality we think we need to be. So people like us. So we don’t rock the boat. So we fit in. So we’re not alone.

I’m an expert, and you should listen to me

I was trying to write something on marketing. And it wasn’t really working. I noticed an unpleasant feeling. It was familiar.

I’d always assumed it was the effect of not finding my flow. I can’t write, so I feel contracted,

But I realized it wasn’t. I realized it was the cause. I wasn’t in flow, because I wasn’t writing. A mask was.

So, I put the mask centre stage and let it write. This is what it said.

“I’m an expert. And you’re not. Listen to me, because I know. Be quiet and you may actually learn something.”

And it’s said in this slightly bored voiced, like really you should know better, but since you don’t, I’ll grace you with my superior wisdom. Though I’m making it clear it’s begrudging. But not clear enough that you could comment on it.

I’ve christened him Bartholomew Snooty III.

I remember being on a personal development course years ago. The leaders had offered me a free place because I’d started an audacious business that professed to be a hub for the kind of work they were teaching.

I thought I was better than them.

I’d silently critique their teaching from the back of the room.

And I ended up pissing some people off. Because I wasn’t committed, and I dropped out, and broke some promises I made. And even though I felt ashamed underneath, I covered it by looking down my nose at them, and dismissing their quaint complaints.

And that’s how he works. He covers my insecurity with indifferent arrogance.

Meanwhile, I’m still lonely.

Oh! Look how vulnerable I am!

I have another one. It’s the “I’m vulnerable” mask.

The one where I pretend to be vulnerable. Because it’s a deep value of mine (the vulnerability not the pretending). And I think I need to be like that all the time.

“I did this thing. It was really vulnerable. But look at me, I’m so brave to be sharing it like this with you. How good am I?”

I remember a couple of years ago. I was having a fight with my girlfriend, and my best friend Joel was there too. And I got really upset, and started crying uncontrollably.

Joel didn’t buy it.

He said he understood I was upset, but it seemed like I was making a show of it.

I froze.

“This is a matrix moment Ewan.” He said.

And he was right.

It felt so real. And I was hurt, but even more, I was trying to get seen.

And maybe that’s why I do it more often.

Don’t see me

Don’t look at me. Because if I show you the real me, you’ll reject me. Like you did when I was innocent, and didn’t know about masks.

I never fitted in at school. Maybe none of us do.

I had the wrong shoes. And no Nintendo. And brown bread sandwiches with cucumber and vegetarian pate.

I stood out, like a weird thumb. And the other kids, with their Nike trainers wouldn’t let me join in.

So I started fashioning some masks. So I wasn’t so lonely.

Maybe you did too.

And none of us realized that we were all wearing masks, and participating in an invented stage play. All secretly wanting to fit in.

And I’m still doing it.

“Like me! I’m really good at writing! Can I play with you?”

I wrote that on facebook the other day. That I still felt like I was 5-years old trying to get people to be my friend.

And lots of people said they would be my friend.

And it was lovely. But it didn’t really change anything.

The naked truth

Because it’s not about winning friends. It’s about saying what I have to say. The real one, who nakedly says the things that he can’t help but care about.

And it would be really shitty if that meant no-one likes me anymore. But even that I’d endure. If that was what my art demanded.

Walt Whitman was like that. Most people hated what he wrote. And he didn’t get huge thanks or success. And then he died. And then everyone realized how brilliant he was, and how beautiful his writing was. And how revolutionary.

I hope that doesn’t happen to me. That would suck.

But I’m realizing how it’s really not about getting friends. That little 5 year old has lost his chance.

It’s about speaking the truth.

I can feel the masks start to melt. And as more of the naked truth starts to reverberate around my world, I realize I’m no longer in control of the plot.

So I cross my fingers, and hope it all has a happy ending.

And I’m stacking all my chips on this. The belief that if I keep speaking what wants to be spoken, then something will happen. And that ending will be the happiest one.


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Ewan Townhead

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you're interested further in my work, you can find out more about me here, and my coaching here.

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  1. Avatar

    You might enjoy reading ‘Fear No Evil: The Pathwork Method of Transforming the Lower Self (Pathwork Series). There is a lot about masks in there.


    • Ewan Townhead

      Thanks Sepp – don’t know that one.

  2. Avatar

    Lovely, Ewan, this is the realest one yet. So spot-on. The vulnerability mask is getting used quite a bit these days. And the “Don’t see me” one is the subtlest but perhaps the most harmful one of all. Thanks so much for putting things in perspective!

    • Ewan Townhead

      You’re so welcome!

  3. Avatar

    It’s a wicked mess! I hope you will keep writing and speaking through it and letting the expert out to play as well. You have earned some stripes we can all benefit from. I find that anything I write in response might sound like rescuing in some way, like, “I think kids whose parents didn’t let them sit in front of the Nintendo and ate cucumber sandwiches on brown bread are cool.” That’s the truth for me but my kids complain about never having cable or a TV in their room and the only composting bin in the neighborhood.

    And look at you now!

    So write it out and be ready to hang the masks on the wall and take a naked stand for yourself and what you bring at any time. I’m ready.

    • Ewan

      Thank you dear LeeAnn. I am also of course incredibly grateful for my upbringing. And, it was the perfect laboratory for me to develop all the neuroses I needed on order to write pieces like this 😉

  4. Avatar

    Congrats on limiting all the BS that distracts children from using their rich imaginations.

    • Ewan Townhead

      NOTHING was going to stop this beast of an imagination.

  5. Avatar

    Yes! Truly funny and I always read your posts because your writing is good: masks on or off.
    Also read and follow Brene.

    • Ewan Townhead

      Thanks Laura 🙂

  6. Avatar

    That would totally suck, Ewan!!

    • Ewan Townhead

      Yes it would 🙂

  7. Avatar

    Ha ha, so recognizable! Did you also have to wear Birckenstock sandals in the time they were not fashionable? I still cannot stand it that the girls who bullied me because of them at school are now wearing them because they are hip 🙂

    • Ewan Townhead

      Mine were Clarkes sandals. ‘Very comfy and good for my feet’ and ugly as fuck.


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