The Price You Pay for Wearing a Mask

What I learnt from an 8 year old girl

I’m 64 years old and one would think that by now I would get it. But, alas, old habits are hard to break.

The penny dropped, while I was folding laundry. Perhaps it was the softness, the warmth or the smell of clean clothes fresh from the dryer. Perhaps it was the automatic repetitive motions of folding undies and rolling pairs of socks that allowed my thoughts to flow.

And that is when I thought of her — Princess Potato-Face.

I was part of a research project at a school for gifted children in Tel Aviv, Israel. My role was to observe a little girl in the third grade during an English lesson. When I asked the teacher to point her out to me, she said, “Over there, the girl with the potato-face.” I was horrified that that was the way the teacher chose to describe her, but I said nothing.

The little girl had been given a beginner’s worksheet, in which she had to match capital and lower-case letters. When I walked up to her, she was busy arranging her collection of erasers.

“OMG!” I exclaimed, “Look at all those erasers!”

“Yes,” she replied, “Here’s a red one and a green one and a gray one and pink one too!”

I was taken aback, as I hadn’t expected her to answer me in English. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t expected her to understand me at all.

At that moment the teacher asked me to take the little girl to the other side of the classroom. I turned to my new friend and said, “Come on, my princess, let’s go sit over there!”

She turned to me and said, “I’m not a princess!”

Once we settled down, she became quite talkative. Instead of doing her worksheet, she chose to tell me — in perfect English — about her family. Her parents were lawyers and she had an older brother, who was a musician. They owned a castle in France, where they would spend their summer holidays.

At one point I asked, “Does your teacher know how good your English is?” Obviously, the worksheet she had been given was way below her level.

She shook her head.

“Why not?” I asked.

Then she told me, “At the beginning of the year, my friend and I would raise our hands in class, but the kids made fun of us. My friend told her mom, who then went to the teacher and it only got worse. So, I decided not to say a word.”

Sitting before me was an amazing little girl as bright as a brand new penny, who chose to play dumb to protect herself from ridicule and bullying of her classmates, and no one knew.

I couldn’t help thinking how similar my own behavior has been this past year to that of a little girl in the third grade, who chose to wear a mask in order to hide her brilliance from the world, so that she could fit in.

I’m smart. I don’t deny that. I’m also extremely creative. I try not to apologize for that. I know for a fact that I have a way with words, and when I speak, people listen. But time and time again, I find myself hiding who I really am, so as not to intimidate others, so as not to step on anyone’s toes, to fit in, and hopefully, so that others will accept me.

But, somehow, it doesn’t work.

It suddenly dawned on me, while folding socks and undies, that there is much truth to the belief that you will never succeed, prosper and receive what you deserve, if you’re not in alignment with your true self. You may be able to fool a few, and perhaps even yourself, but the Universe knows better.

So, my New Year Resolution is to allow myself to shine, to be who I am — unapologetically and guilt-free, without holding back. And, if others have a problem with this, then, I guess, tough luck!

This time I’m determined to get it.

How about you?

It’s Time 2 Lead.

It’s time to THRIVE.