What image do you project?

“Yay, kittens!” I was just coming up the stairs from the family room when I heard the commotion.

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are.” — Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors

“Yay, kittens!”

I was just coming up the stairs from the family room when I heard the commotion.

Oma and Opa had just arrived from the farm and decided it would be a wonderful surprise to bring kittens for each of the kids. The kids, of course, were delighted.

Before I had even made it to the top step, they came stampeding down the stairs and each with a little fur ball in hand.

“Look, Daddy!” cried my youngest daughter. “Oma and Opa brought us kittens!”

When I reached the landing I found my wife standing with hands on her hips.

“What?” asked my father-in-law. “Kids love kittens.”

“You could have asked first,” stated my wife.

“And what would you have said if I had?” he replied.

The following week at work was a challenging one. Ken, one of our biggest clients at the radio station was not happy.

He didn’t like the scripts I had written, he didn’t like the ad we had produced and when the sales rep informed him of a recent “bump” in advertising rates, he went through the roof.

None of this came as a surprise. Ken was known as a hardhearted “so and so” — someone who could bring most anyone to the point of exasperation or even tears.

As it turned out, the kittens had an appointment with the vet that week: shots along with spaying and neutering.

I filled out the paperwork and was told to pick them up in the morning. I was about to leave when something unexpected happened. I opened the clinic door and there stood Ken, looking as though he had been crying. He was holding a small black and brown dog gently in his hands.

Our eyes met for a moment then without a word he walked to the counter.

“She got hit,” he said between sobs. “She got hit by a car.”

The receptionist ducked into the back and re-emerged with the veterinarian.

“She ran out on the street,” said Ken, tears now streaming down his face. Apparently, Ken had been about to take the dog for a walk when it had darted out onto the street.

A passing motorist struck the animal and kept going — perhaps unaware of what had transpired.

The vet took a cursory look then asked Ken to follow him into the back. I stood perplexed.

Here was a man who ­­— from my experience — had only one emotion, anger.

Yet here he was, sobbing, heartbroken — obviously in deep despair over the fate of an animal he loved dearly.

What image do you project to the world — what face do you wear? Are you one way when dealing with one situation and yet another entirely when dealing with something else?

I attended a management seminar once where the focus was on determining our management style.

By answering a series of questions, our natural and adapted style as managers could supposedly be charted — basically, who we are naturally and who we become in the work environment. Apparently, for most people, natural and adapted styles are vastly different. My styles were nearly identical which meant I was essentially the same person at work as anywhere else.

The facilitator told me that could be a problem — it suggested I was not “donning the cloak of leadership” in my department. I disagreed. One of the goals of building self-esteem is to connect with our authentic self, to drop the pretense and the need to wear masks — to simply be who we are in whatever situation.

To me, if the gap between natural and adapted self is wide, we’re stretching to perform the role and being less than honest with ourselves and others. It can be a struggle to be who we truly are — our upbringing, culture and even society tells us we need to someone else in order to succeed and be accepted.

So we take on roles, we put on masks and become who we believe others want or need us to be.

And often, in the process, we lose our identity. Ask yourself where you’re coming from: a place of love or a place of fear. When coming from a place of fear, we will be more inclined to wear a mask because we fear being transparent. In other words, we view who we are as somehow inappropriate or fear being open because vulnerability will place us at a disadvantage.

Certainly, we’re all a little different depending upon the role and situation, but when the difference between who we truly are and what we appear to be is a chasm, we need to seriously consider our motivation.

Fourteenth century Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli put it this way: “Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each one his part, until the manager waves them off the stage?

Moreover, this manager frequently bids the same actor to go back in a different costume, so that he who has but lately played the king in scarlet now acts the flunkey in patched clothes. Thus all things are presented by shadows.” I don’t know what became of Ken or his dog. Shortly after the event, our family and the kittens moved to another city. I did wonder what impact the event had on Ken’s life.

Did it prompt him to be more open and vulnerable or more determined to wear a mask of anger? German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, “The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party when the masks are dropped.”

Perhaps we all wear masks from time to time and cannot remove them without losing a little of who we are in the process.

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. www.extremeesteem.ca