To a Fault: Masks

Fault: Feel inadequate when introduced to new people

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 2,000 characters) about a time in your life when this fault created a situation that had a negative impact on your life.
I have a hard time selling myself.
I know, it's hard to believe. Here I am, professor of medieval history at the University of Chicago, and I feel inadequate when introduced to new people. Maybe I should start a club, Inadequates Anonymous.
“Hello, my name is Rachel, and I feel inadequate when introduced to new people.”
I have a fantasy that none of my colleagues in academia ever feels like this. (I'll wait...)
I almost never use my academic Chicago status as a way of introducing myself. Almost. In over twenty years, I have used it once, and once only, to significant effect. (It was important, I had to use everything I had to get that special someone's attention. Then I was NOT going to sell myself short!) 
Otherwise, my Chicago status seems to matter more to those who would criticize me than to those I would like to impress. Certainly, it has not impressed certain of my peer reviewers over the years. I had a real struggle getting the contract for my new book, despite having published two books already with the same publisher. 
It is the real reason--okay, one of the many real reasons--that I have not tried going on the job market over the years. I hate the feeling of knowing (how do I know?) that there is nothing I can do to impress people. 
I have this feeling every time I talk with the candidates whom my department has admitted to our graduate program and I am trying to convince them to accept our offer. We have one of the strongest graduate programs in History in the country (according to the rankings, at least), not to mention an outstanding group of medievalists on which to draw both at the UofC and in the Chicago area at large. But all too often there comes a moment when I am making the sell...and I can see it in their eyes. They aren't going to come.  
At which point I panic. What did I say? Did I come on too strong? Was it when I told them about my research? Or was it the courses I am planning on teaching? But it's too late. They aren't impressed.
Alternative outcome: Write a short paragraph about what you might have done differently in that situation, to minimize the effect of this fault.
Do you wonder that I compete in a sport that requires you to wear a mask? 
I remember the first time I put on a fencing mask. It was heavy and awkward, but I felt liberated. I hadn't a clue how to fence, but I was no longer this inadequate person. I was a fencer! 
I do the same thing when I go into the classroom, metaphorically speaking. I put on my professor mask so that I can do and say the things my students need me to.  
Over the years, I have grown accustomed to the masks. I know what to do when I have them on. 
I have other masks as well. Sometimes they require a bit of adjustment, but most fit fairly well. There is the mask I wear when I am walking my dog. And the mask that I wear when I am at church. There is my fiddler mask and my airport mask and my conference mask.  
You could costume a Mardi Gras parade with just a few of my masks. 
It's not that they're fake. But neither are they really me. And yet somehow I am convinced that new people I meet can see through them. 
Why? Because when I meet new people I am anxious about the role they expect me to play. 
Erving Goffman said something about this. About how when we meet people we are trying to figure out our role in relation to them.  
“When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to posses, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be.” 
It is awful when others do not seem to accept the role that one is playing, for example, when the candidates whom I want to encourage to come study at Chicago do not accept the role of advisor that I am suggesting I might assume on their behalf. I feel foolish for even attempting to convince them.  
I do not like not knowing what mask to wear.
Guidelines for General Improvement: Now that you've thought about how you might have behaved differently in that particular situation, please think about this fault in more general terms. How could you work on improving this fault in general, so that such situations do not repeat themselves?
I need another mask. One that I can use in situations in which I am uncertain about what role I am expected to play. 
Lipstick helps. Milo taught me that. Also great hair. And not being fat. Plus the anointing of chrism. 
Rule no. 1: Remember you are a Christian. The purpose of your life is to praise God. 
Someone asked me after the vigil last Saturday what it felt like being confirmed as a Catholic. I said: “Calming.” Now I understand why. For the first time in my life, I know who I am.  
Anointed and beloved of God.  
Professor Peterson talks about stories, particularly mythological stories, as schema built up over the millennia of human experience to teach us how to act. Science teaches us what the world is. But stories teach us what we should do. 
Stories carry the Why of our existence. Science--that is, studying the world as a thing--can only answer the question What exists? Stories tell us what matters because they bring us into relationship with each other--and with God. 
This is what it means to put on Christ. To clothe oneself in Christ, as the apostle says. Always knowing the role that you are meant to play. Always knowing what relationship you are in with God and the new people that you meet. 
At the Vigil, Father Elias anointed each of us confirmands on the eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and hands. All of our senses to be brought into relationship with God and the world. I particularly enjoyed being anointed on my hands. Not just my forehead, as I had expected. But on the palms of my hands.  
The hands with which I fence and fiddle and write. The hands with which I act on the world to make books and music and fencing bouts. 
But also on my face, as if I were being given a new mask that I could wear at all times. 
The mask that I was born with. The mask that I was made with, in the image and likeness of God. 
That's even better than lipstick and great hair!
That ended up in a place I did not expect! Well, then, onto number four...

--From Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring: Faults program. 

Popular posts from this blog

Credo ut intelligam

Make the Middle Ages Dark Again

Nation, American Style


Facere Quod In Se Est*