What Hides Behind My Mask
I am sitting at the end of a long wooden table. White walls stretch around me as far as the eye can see. Cold artificial lights are hanging from the ceiling, illuminating the immutable expressions of the other people sitting around the table. All of them are immaculately dressed and groomed, clearly older than me, and also more experienced. They have lived their lives, accomplished things I can only dream of, and still, they are sitting there, around that table, staring at me.
The lights flicker slightly as I swallow my lack of words away. Who decided I should be seated at this table? Why would I be put in an equal position to these other people that have lived so much more than me? Why would people, who have accomplished more things than I could even dare dream of, be waiting to hear my opinions? It does not make sense. It never does.
My friends and the people with whom I have spoken about this keep saying that I was chosen to take on the roles I have because I am qualified enough. They go on about the traits of my personality that make me a competent candidate for whatever role we are talking about. They explore things that I have done before and reasons why I might have been seen fit to perform those tasks.
Still, as I sit at an endless string of work meetings, second-year lectures, editorial meetings and internship research discussions, I can not help but feel like a little child sitting at the end of that imposing table. I feel like I am being stared at, judged, analysed. That my every move is under scrutiny at all times.
At first, I was convinced these gazes were my colleagues’, my teachers’, my friends’. That it was the pressure of wanting their validation and support that I felt hanging over my head. It took me some time to realise that the only eyes on me are my own. It is only my gaze that is following my every move: criticising me when I am behind, pushing me to do more, punishing any attempt at rest or self-care.
It took me some time to realise that everyone else sitting at that table was just fulfilling a role for which they also felt unprepared. They -like me- were trying their best to play the part they were assigned to, carrying their own insecurities and baggage along the way. They -like me- were scared to have their masks torn away to reveal the small little child that was sitting at that very table once, scared of being called on to give the answer. They -like me- had felt inadequate, not good enough.
Owning the spaces I occupy and taking pride in my accomplishments is not something that I think I will ever achieve. Not because I feel like I will be terribly unsuccessful or because I assume that I will always feel too young or too inexperienced compared to those around me, but because these are the labels I have identified with my whole life. Thus they are the labels I am struggling the most to part with.
I still have no idea of who I want to be and no way to foresee who I will end up becoming. But if there is one thing I realised this new academic year, it is that I will always look for places and opportunities that make me feel too young and too inexperienced.
The challenge of learning from those around me and growing into the space I am given is exactly what motivates me to keep going. The truth is that as scary as that intimidating room and the inexpressive faces may be, they are not a match for the feeling of entrapment and terror I would experience knowing that I have reached my peak and that, what I have right then, is everything that my life will ever have to offer.
By Ju Laclau Massaglia