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drawing of who am I, masks, and personas

❝In the evening I take [the mask] off, but there's another one underneath. And I can't seem to find the bottom of the stack.❞ -Blue Man Group, "Persona"

Tell me if you've seen this play out before. You see someone acting in a rather rude manner. Then, the person somehow justifies the rudeness by claiming some version of, "I was just being honest. I'm only being authentic."

Authenticity isn't an excuse to be a jerk.

Authenticity is knowing who you are and acting as such.

Before you say, "But what if I am a jerk, then being authentic is me being a jerk," let me just say that there's more to authenticity than acting out impulsive comments.


We all have different personas that we wear. Think of these like masks. We wear different masks when we interact with others in society. In other words, we behave differently in different situations.

drawing of masks and personas

For example, you might be someone completely different when you're at work versus when you are with your family. And both of those might be different from who you are when you are socializing with friends. And of course, your online persona might just be the highlights of your life.

None of this is wrong in and of itself. Where it can become problematic is when we don't know who we are when we've taken all our masks off.

drawing of personas


Bronnie Ware wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying where she recounts her time as an end-of-life caregiver. The top regret she noticed in people who are on their deathbeds is they didn't live a life that was true to themselves and instead lived a life that others expected of them.

In other words, they didn't live in a way that was aligned with their values.

drawing of not living in alignment with your values

Not living a life that is true to oneself is tough because if we are doing what we think we're supposed to be doing, it can start to feel like our well-being is dependent upon who we are comparing our lives to.

drawing of keeping up with the joneses

The Value Compass is designed to help you gain insight into your own values and how they guide your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can be used to explore your personal goals and motivations, as well as to gain a better understanding of others' values and how they may differ from your own.


When you start the process of learning to live a life that is aligned with your values, it's helpful to first know what your values are. Think of your values as who you are and what you stand for.

Knowing who you are and what you stand for is a key to knowing who you are under all the masks you wear.

drawing of personal values are who you are and what you stand for

Most of us don't really know who we are under all our masks. This contributes to the top deathbed regret - you can't live in alignment with your true self if you don't know your true self.

drawing of understanding yourself

Since most humans don't like uncertainty, including the uncertainty of knowing what our values should be, we look for social cues.

That is, we look to others to see what we should do. These are those proverbial Joneses everyone tries to keep up with.

drawing of doing what you think you're supposed to do

The problem is, when we look to others to see who we are and what we stand for we aren't learning anything about ourselves. We're only learning who they are and what they stand for.

drawing of choosing the wrong values

So, even though it might be tempting to think we're living in line with our values...

drawing of living in alignment with your values

We might actually be living in line with what everyone else thinks is important.

drawing of living the wrong values


The good news is that the true you is in there. You don't have to build anything or add anything new to who you are. You just have to shed away parts of you that don't represent who you are.

Think of it like a statue - say the statue of David. Michelangelo didn't create David by building him. Instead, he started with too much material.

drawing of starting a sculpture

Then, he started chipping away at the block of stone.

drawing of first steps of a sculpture

Little by little, David started to take shape as the cuts got more and more precise as they got closer to David.

drawing of sculpture starting to take shape

After more and more of the stone block was cut away, more and more of David was revealed.

drawing of completing a statue

Until finally he was finished. David was in the stone block all along.

drawing of the statue of david

In much the same way, the true you is underneath all the masks. You are there inside the societal block that you've built around yourself.

Your job is to sculpt away the parts of you that don't fit with the kind of person you want to be.

drawing of authenticity involves removing parts of you that aren't authentic

Being authentic and living in line with who you are doesn't mean that you will never have to "put on a show" or act differently in various situations. It means you know who you are and what you stand for at the end of the day.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Becker, Joshua: Things That Matter Ben-Shahar, Tal: Being Happy Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life Kinder, George: Seven Stages of Money Maturity Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

McAdams, Dan: The Stories We Live By McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose Seligman, Martin: Authentic Happiness Sinek, Simon: Start With Why Wallace, David Foster: This is Water Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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