Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the. In the course of his career, he developed an interest in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (sometimes known as Neurolinguistic programming). He noticed that a small fraction of his patients came back after undergoing major surgery and were still unhappy with their appearance. They had undergone a dramatic physical change as the result of reconstructive surgery, but not the accompanying mental shift.
One patient had gone through a traumatic car accident that had disfigured his face. Maltz performed reconstructive surgery and, according to his family and friends, it had been a tremendous success.
Many couldn’t notice the difference between his reconstructed appearance and his pre-accident appearance. The patient, however, returned to Maltz’s office furious at the results. He still saw himself as disfigured. His identity was still the same as it had been before surgery.
The incident made Maltz realize that he was selling wasn’t reconstructive surgery. He was selling identity change.
In Impro, a book on teaching improvisational theater, Keith Johnstone cites a similar phenomenon when students start doing mask work.
Many actors have been unable to really ‘find’ a character until they put on the make-up, or until they try on the wig, or the costume. We find the Mask strange because we don’t understand how irrational our responses to the face are anyway, and we don’t realise that much of our lives is spent in some form of trance, i.e. absorbed…
In most social situations you are expected to maintain a consistent personality. In a Mask class you are encouraged to ‘let go’, and allow yourself to become possessed.
There’s always a disparity between the objective reality of ourselves and how we see ourselves or our identity. Maltz realized this through his work as a plastic surgeon and Johnstone through teaching improv.
There’s a tremendous point of leverage for people in our generation to leverage our locations to change our masks and, consequently, our identities. When you are location independent, you get to put on another mask and see how it feels.
Most people that come back home after having lived abroad for the first time experience reverse culture shock.
When I came back to the U.S. after having lived abroad for the first time in Argentina for 6 months, it was initially devastating to me coming back. I had changed dramatically over the past 6 months but not many of my friends had.
For the first time, I had taken off the mask that I’d worn for my whole life and put on a new one. Most people that have lived abroad or become expats have ahd similar experiences.
Travel, changing locations is the fastest way to try lots of different masks on and consciously choose the mask you want to be wearing at any given time.
It’s hard to hang out with all your old buddies, in all you old haunts, having all the same conversations, and become a new person.
We are what we do repeatedly. And one of if not the most effective way to change what you repeatedly do is to change your location, your venue, your environment.
When you change your location, it’s a lot easier to wash away a lot of bad habits. That’s not to say if you move somewhere, you’ll become a different person, but you have a greater opportunity to make dramatic changes in your identity.
Many people that want to start businesses or become entrepreneurs should move to Vietnam. Not just because it’s a great a cultural experience, but because when you hop on a plane and move to Vietnam or New York or Berlin – you’re not taking a trip, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to put on a new mask.
This process, done over and over, makes you a more robust person. You not only become more adaptable, you gain confidence and self-assurance that who you are is congruent with who you want to be.
You aren’t wearing the mask that your parents, or school, or your friends assigned to you. You’re able to try on lots of different masks and slowly, deliberately craft the mask you want to wear.
For me, the moves I’ve made abroad have let me try on a lot of different masks to figure out who I wanted to be. I’m far more confident and comfortable with who I am today than I used to be because I feel like I’ve tried on lots of different masks. I’ve gotten to be a lot of different “me’s” and decide explicitly and deliberately which one of those I really want to be.
Location Independence and The Iron Prescription
Charlie Munger has something he calls the Iron Prescription for Life:
“Whenever you feel that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life…Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in any way, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can – the so-called “iron prescription” – I think that really works.”
Munger is right. The opportunity for a lot of us now is to leverage technology and globalization to facilitate those changes in ourselves.
It’s not an easy cure-all. I know lots of people that travel that are the same miserable people everywhere they go. But there are a lot fewer of them.
One of the interesting things about being an expat is that most all expats have something interesting going on. They all have some perspective. They’ve all tried on at least a couple of different masks.
Change your location. Change your mask. Change your life.
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Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson
Steven Moody says
Wow, excellent frame. This is what “tourists” miss: the opportunity to wear a new mask long enough to forget they have a mask on. They end up spending 10 days in 6 countries in Europe, but never really leave America.
Another quote that ties into this:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Proust
His “new eyes” could be easily replaced by “a new mask” without losing the meaning.
I disagree with your metaphor on masks… I feel I am not hiding behind different ‘masks’ when I go to new places but being authentically me. And instead of putting on new masks, I am creating my new stories. Don’t get stuck on your old stories, how people used to think of you, how those people shaped who you are…
Shape yourself. Shape-shift.
Us travelers and expats, we are shape-shifters.
I may not agree with putting on masks (I’m a writer, I create stories), but nevertheless, this was still a good read. Metaphors and semantics aside, I agree! 😉
Taylor Pearson says
I guess I don’t think there is an “authentic me.” Over time, I’ve been many different me’s and all were in the moment authentic. What I appreciate about travel is the ability to try on those different me’s and tell different stories to myself to see which narrative I like best.
Ross Jaklik says
Well written, and good parallels.
Taylor Pearson says
Matthew G. Bailey says
I totally agree. My first long term solo trip 5 years ago totally changed my perspective on life. I’m now a vagabond, whether I am in a new country or not and I’ve given up the notion of working for someone else and have created my own income streams to maintain the location independence that services this sort of lifestyle. It’s fabulous. It’s half the reason I started http://www.LiveLimitless.net ; to continue to meet like-minded people and inspire readers to think differently…
I like the article and believe some of us – but not all – would certainly benefit from moving or at least travelling a lot for longer terms.
I dislike the term “mask”. It sounds like you would try to fool people on purpose on who you are. In fact, i think it is “natural” to behave like this or that, depending on what you experienced, your mood and whatever else. However there is the psychological concept called “self-looking glass”. It says, your self-esteem is defined by what you believe others see in you.
If you would stick in a single place, it will be very hard to change what you believe others see in you. If you one time acted like an idiot and you believe others know, it is hard to change that.
With moving, you have the chance to change such a thing.
Also, sticking in one place would block you on your natural development as a person. In example, others see me as a mad developer. But I might have changed over time. Do I stick with the role, because I believe others think that of me? Or is it really me? Or do I stick with the role just because I am to comfortable.
I said role, because we change over time, and what feels authentic now, might become a “role” tomorrow.
So I also agree with what you said in another comment: “There is maybe not authentic Me”. The thing is, if you would say: “Authentic Me” is just a snapshot in time, in a moment – then there might be authentic behaviour.
If I would freak out about something – then this is authentic. The feeling is real. Anger is real. But is this anger what defines the “Me”? Only part of it. However, others look at me, and I know that: the self-looking glass kicks in. I have my self-esteem carved in stone and it will be hard to change. My actions eventually are influenced by this.
Anyway, I get what you mean with “Mask”.
In another note, I also believe that travelling like this is not for everybody. I think the majority of people can not handle that well. However, people with entrepreneurial spirit should certainly travel. Starting from scratch with how you see yourself, experimenting, trying new things, will help you to find a modus operandi which just works best for you. This is “finding yourself” maybe, whatever that means.
So, too many words. Sorry for the long comment. My initial purpose was to say: “you might like the self-looking glass, go, check it out”. What a fail 😉
“It’s hard to hang out with all your old buddies, in all you old haunts, having all the same conversations, and become a new person.” –> I can totally relate to this. I feel ‘fake’ if I’m trying to become a new person yet hanging around the same old buddies.
“You aren’t wearing the mask that your parents, or school, or your friends assigned to you. You’re able to try on lots of different masks and slowly, deliberately craft the mask you want to wear.” –> totally true! I’d like to keep on doing this ‘trying new masks’ idea, especially when you are a teenagers,