My Mom hates this story but back when I was in 7th grade she and my sister got it into their heads that I should play lacrosse. Growing up in New England, lacrosse was the “it” sport of the preppy set.
Up until that point, most of my successful athletic endeavors were individual sports, like swimming and golf.
Further, any team sports that I participated in never required any protective gear beyond a batting helmet or plastic glasses, like Horace Grant but not.
Totally pressured by the guilt of my Mother and my older sister, we all went to Bob’s Sporting Goods to pick out all my gear.
There in the store they had me try on all the equipment – helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, etc. Thankfully they spared me from having to try on the cup.
They were totally excited about this new cool, athletic turn my life was about to take. I, on the other hand, was overwhelmed by the weight of all the equipment.
They thought it would be transformative, while I thought it was a horrifying.
Who would want to play a sport where people hurl a small, hard rubber ball at you so fast that it requires layers of protection?
But I tried to live up to the mask – the new image that it could bring me as I battled the awkwardness of junior high – so I feigned enthusiasm and let my Mom put all the gear on her credit card.
Now this is the part of the story my Mom doesn’t like – about two hours later after running some more errands and an orthodontist appointment I had a total meltdown in the car.
The topic of my upcoming foray into lacrosse came up and I admitted I didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to try out. I didn’t want to wear any of the gear. I went on and on.
It was like I was Chunk confessing to the Fratellis in The Goonies. I was overcome with emotion. Finally, my Mom, despite her anger about how I just had her just buy all this expensive equipment, said I didn’t have to play if I really didn’t want to. (Thankfully she had kept the receipt.)
My Mom, my sister, and even me to a degree had though that by putting on that lacrosse mask, I was going to suddenly be this popular, hot shot, jock athlete and tougher than ever before.
But I learned then that you can’t hide the truth behind a mask.
We all play dress up in life to help give us that extra boost of confidence and attitude we need to win. In a job interview, it’s a power suit. In the gym, it’s some kickass t-shirt or headband. Or on a date, it’s a new leather jacket or cute clutch.
In the best scenario these items are an extension of our personality and help us shine in even the toughest of situations. But often these “masks” are in strict contrast to our true selves. They are a false portrayal of who we really are.
Last year, I grew out a beard for the Freeze Fest Team Challenge in the hopes that it would bring me some extra fierceness in the ring.
I thought this exterior sign of virility and strength as represented by a full face of whiskers was going to make me a stronger competitor. It would bestow upon me the powers of Samson, Moses and Chuck Norris combined.
But a mask is worthless if you don’t truly believe in it and can’t pass the test without it.
Putting on the lacrosse helmet couldn’t hide the fact that I was scared to try a new sport and put myself at risk.
Similarly, growing out a beard or wearing all new fancy expensive gear to a competition is not going to disguise one’s lack of strength and ability.
In myths, comic books and movies, the hero is often stripped of their mask or weapon or super power at the climax.
It is in that moment, they reveal their true character as they come back swinging and fighting with every last ounce of energy they can muster.
In comparison, the villain when relieved of their mask becomes a withering coward who quickly waves the white flag.
It’s great to suit up, but our outward appearance needs to match our inner truth. The mask, the cape, the bracelets or boots should be a reflection of what we believe we are truly capable of.
Otherwise, we will quickly fall to our demise when we realize that a cape alone can’t help us fly.