Behind the Mask

We were at the Calgary Farmer’s Market last weekend.  It was the Saturday before Hallowe’en and there were kids (and adults) in costumes everywhere.  I wish I had taken pictures of many of them because the kids were really cute and some of the adult costumes were really creative.  I have to admit I have a shyness around asking if I can take someone’s picture … but perhaps that is the subject of another  blog.  So I satisfied myself with taking pictures of pumpkins.

I write this post as I’m on a plane down to Santa Barbara, California to dive into the depths of program I’ve enrolled in to be certified as a leadership coach.  It struck me that there is quite a similarity between what I’m embarking on and what small children are thinking of at this time of year.

What might that be?

Do I want to be the friendly lion?
Do I want to be the friendly lion?

Simply the question of “what do I want to be”? I am “this” today, but I really want to be “that”.  In the world of children it is about being a superhero, a comical figure, something beautiful or powerful.  For some of the kids it is about becoming a future vision, appearing as a profession you aspire to.

I’m the same way right now.  I aspire to be a coach.  But I think about it differently.  Rather than putting on the “coach” mask, I think about taking off my “expert” mask.

I’ve spent my whole life becoming an expert … someone who people would look to when they needed to solve a specific problem.   My journey of self-awareness over the past several years has spent some time examining the impact of my expert persona on my effectiveness as a leader.  They aren’t easily compatible, which led me to try to understand who my most essential self is, where I discovered that I love to build new things, but I’m happiest when I am facilitating success or agreement for others.

Do I want to be an angry cowboy?
Do I want to be an angry cowboy?

So for me, the journey to become a certified coach is an unmasking.  It is the stripping away of my self-made identity as an expert. At its stickiest level, it manifests in me as an identity as an executive.  The discovery of my attachment to my executive identity was somewhat revealing to me.  There was a certain amount of angst associated with the understanding that while coaching is a clear path to engaging the natural facilitator within me, it will require me to let go of my executive identity in order to be truly effective.  The comfort in this for me is that it is not an immediate thing, but for me to follow my dreams that will be an end result somewhere down the road.

As a leader I wonder how I can help with this same process for others.  Some might view the process more through the innocence of a child’s aspiration to become something “more”.  Others might view the process more like I have experienced as a form of “unmasking”, of becoming who I was always meant to be.

How about this bunch of pumpkins?  What are they going to be?
How about this bunch of pumpkins? What are they going to be?

When I think about the process it isn’t a complex one, but it is a personal and emotional one that requires a lot of trust. So I then start to consider if I’ve done what I need to do with my team to earn that trust, for them to share the fullness of their dreams, to trust that I will help them achieve those dreams and, where those dreams are still forming, to offer them support in bringing them into focus.

I would love to hear from others on this idea of “becoming” versus “unmasking”.  What are your experiences with this?  As a leader, have

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

11 thoughts on “Behind the Mask

  1. I am going through this very thing in my personal life. Rather than a simple unmasking of what had always been underneath, as I initially thought it was, it has become more of a complete transformation. That is, transforming into someone new, while discovering or ‘unmasking’ hidden parts of me and letting go of who I thought I was. Now there is the added complexity that others watching my progress do not understand the completeness of my transformation and to a certain extent are wanting to pull me back, to keep me how I was. There is the danger of either staying stuck or leaving them behind – in my old world. To avoid that, I am now having to reconnect with each person, and establish what each of those connections will now be as my new self.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth for this very thoughtful piece. I’m struck by the clarity and presence of your understanding of your journey, right to the level of examining the new role of each person in your new chapter. You remind me so clearly of a book called “The Adult Years” by Frederic Hudson which talks about the cycle of renewal for adults, which may be of interest to you.

      1. Thanks for the book reference. I have actually found it difficult to find a good one on the subject (of transition or transformation). The book looks interesting :).

  2. I love what Elizabeth wrote — about the transformative nature of her ‘unmasking’. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”.

    Letting go of expert mind means knowing that looking at each situation with open eyes, and mind, and heart, allows room for possibilities — and for me, that’s what a leader does. They don’t ‘have the answers’, they hold the space for other’s to find their answers.

    Unmasking means letting go of all the answers and opening up to possibility — which I guess also means as you explore this new path — not holding onto the outcome allows room for transformation! 🙂

    What an exciting journey you’re on Ian. So excited to hear more!

  3. I often wonder if those pithy stories about Michelangelo and others are actually true, but at the risk of perpetuating the myth, when Michelangelo was asked how he created the David out of rock, he replied, I simply removed everything that didn’t look like David.

    In some ways my life is that journey to figure our what I look like and remove everything that doesn’t look like me. Said another way, I’m simply trying to become the best version of myself.

    Congratulations on your journey Ian and your revealing

  4. Ian I’m so excited for you. This post and all the comments are so revealing. Letting go of the expert, removing the mask – now that is an interesting thought! For example, I’ve been trained in commonly accepted fundraising concepts and there have been many times when these teachings go against what I know to be true experentially. So then, I take in what makes sense and leave the rest behind…

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