May 26, 2015

The Practice of Life (Part 5): Managing the Mask

rhodesWearing a professional mask is one of the tools of our trade. We don’t do that out of hypocrisy, but to meet the demands of our work. We’ve got a lot to do. Our masks keep us on track. We need that.

Here’s what psychologist Edward Edinger says about the benefits of professional personas, both to ourselves and the society we serve:

Now of what value is awareness of the persona to the individual and society? Here again, as with all self-knowledge, both the individual and society benefit. You see, it commonly happens that, to a greater or lesser extent, one is identified with one’s persona. It is so convenient. It is hard enough to acquire competence in a professional career, and once that has been achieved, the satisfactions of that achievement are so significant that there is a strong tendency to identify with that professional role.

The minister learns an appropriate persona as he goes through theological seminary, and then starts his first job as assistant pastor; the medical student learns the medical persona; the lawyer learns hers, and so on. And once that is learned, things work so smoothly when operating out of it that there’s a strong tendency to identify with it. But the trouble is, for society as a whole, that when one meets one’s doctor, or one’s pastor, or one’s lawyer, or whatever, one isn’t meeting a full human being. You meet the mask.

All that is understandable.… [I]t takes too much time to be real. It is much easier to function out of your [professional] persona. The great advantage of it, though temporary, is that it doesn’t take any effort, you don’t have to respond out of the deeper human realities. So you can get more work done in a day…. It takes much more time to listen… and respond humanly, and then you get way behind in your schedule.

From Science of the Soul:

So far so good, but it’s not hard to spot the downside. there is more to us than our professional masks. There are times when we need to take them off, when we need to “be real” and not be identified with our professional persona, when other people need to meet “a full human being” and we need to respond to them “out of the deeper human realities” of who we are.

Managing the mask begins with self-awareness. As Prof. Edinger says “If self-knowledge is to proceed and if individuals are going to achieve a full, well-rounded personality, it is important that they realize the reality of the persona.” Wear the mask or don’t wear the mask, but do so consciously, because “it makes a world of difference whether you’re doing something consciously or unconsciously, because choice is involved.”

There’s that word “choice” again. Choice is essential to regaining that sense of control we’ve been talking about – which in turn is essential to promoting our happiness, both on the job and away from it.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice and a registered mentor with the Colorado Supreme Court’s CAMP program. He offers career coaching for lawyers and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

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