It was early on a Saturday morning, and I was getting frustrated. I was working on the book I’m writing about my first trip to Uganda, and I was on the very last section of the book. I had planned to spend the whole morning writing, and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. But the words just weren’t coming together.
This actually happens to me a lot when I’m writing, and I’ve learned through experience that the best way to handle it is to just step away from it for a while, and then start again fresh a little later. And that’s what I decided to do.

In the meantime, I got a phone call from my friend Tabitha. She was calling to discuss projects related to the work we’re doing in Uganda. We did some planning and scheduling, and went over things that each of us needs to be doing right now.

Some of the items on my list were out of my comfort zone or area of expertise, or involved things I don’t enjoy doing and don’t think I’m very good at. Still, they needed to be done, and I was the person who needed to do them.

Tabitha, who knows me very well, was giving me a pep talk and lots of encouragement. At one point, she said, “Okay, Betty, just put your ‘brave mask’ on, and go do it.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I’d never heard her use those words before. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone use that expression, but it made perfect sense and was exactly what I needed to do. It also related to precisely what I was trying to say in my writing that morning – the part in my book that I was stuck on.

I had been writing about the fact that even now, when I’m talking or writing about our work in Uganda, I often feel as though I’m two different people. One is the person doing the talking or writing, and the other is the “real” me, standing at a bit of a distance, watching, listening, and wondering, “Who is that person – the one who looks like me and sounds like me, but couldn’t possibly be me?”

The stories and experiences are certainly mine, but I don’t feel as brave or confident, or as polished and professional, as the person in them. And I feel like a bit of a fraud when people tell me how brave or inspiring they think I am. But I’m looking at it a little differently now. Maybe what I was doing during the difficult or dangerous times – although I didn’t think about it this way at the time – was putting my brave mask on.

Putting a brave mask on isn’t just for dangerous or exotic missions and adventures. It’s something we can do pretty much anytime we’re in an unfamiliar place or an uncomfortable situation. When I first joined Toastmasters and started giving speeches, some of the advice I got for dealing with nervousness – and it’s advice I’ve given to many others since then – is to “Fake it till you make it.” That doesn’t mean to be insincere, or to pretend to be anyone or anything other than who you are. It simply means to put your brave mask on. Go ahead and be nervous or afraid or uncomfortable about doing something. But do it anyway.

One of the most encouraging realizations I’ve had about putting a brave mask on is not about what happens when you put it on, but what happens when you take it off: A little bit of the bravery that’s embedded in the mask rubs off on you and stays there. And the next time you put your brave mask on and take it off, the same thing happens.

Are there areas of your life where you need to put your brave mask on? If so, I hope you’ll do it. Not just for the way you’ll feel or the things you’ll do when you put it on, but for what will happen when you take it off. That’s when you’ll be able to see – and to show the world – the person you really are.
After talking with Tabitha on the phone that morning, I put my brave mask on. I took care of the tasks I needed to handle for our Uganda projects. Then I finished working on the ending of the book. The words came together perfectly.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 10, 2013.©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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