Finding Your Kabuki Mask

Lately there has been a lot of talk around authenticity. Should you be authentic? How are you authentic? Can you be authentic? There are valid arguments on all sides, but to be honest, screw anyone who tells you what your blog and your online presence has to be about. Use it as you see fit to accomplish whatever it is you want to do or to become whoever it is you want to be.

Remember that a blog or a profile are nothing more than tools and we can use them as we see fit. There is no right, there is no wrong. There is just whatever words you choose to put down on the screen. As for me, sometimes I strive to be honest, to share my struggles with being more creative and productive. Other times, I chose to be more aspirational with my efforts here. To try and teach what I’m still learning and share how it is helping. More often than not, I am offering words up to myself as much as I am to you. It may not be “authentic” but it reminds me of who I want to be and where I hope to go.

When I was younger, I was painfully awkward1. I had no idea how to act in public and how to reconcile what was in my head with what was coming out of my mouth. It felt crippling and to a certain extent it was. I had few friends, little direction and no confidence.

Thankfully I’ve always had two things going for me: painful self-consciousness and a special breed of reckless persistence. I wasn’t happy and I refused to settle for who I was and hatched the kind of hair-brained scheme that only a 17-year-old could. I decided to become a punk.

I changed the way I dressed and the way I acted. I spiked my hair (even bleached it at one point), started skateboarding (which I had no aptitude for whatsoever) and started listening to punk rock (even though I never had much love for it).

It was comic at best and sad at worst, but the it unlocked something inside. It tapped into a confidence that I never knew was there. It became my own personal Kabuki mask, an over-the-top costume that allowed me to confidently play the part. And the more distance I got from who I didn’t want to be, the easier it became to find out who I was. And for the record, it quickly became clear that it was not a punk.

There are serious benefits to leaning in, to being true to who you are, but there is also something to be said for stepping away from that every now and again. Today I know myself better and am far stronger because I had put on a silly costume and faked it. I was as far from authentic, but inevitably it lead me to who I am.

Let this be a place where you can be who you want until you find out who you are (and then feel free to use it to express that). I don’t write this blog because I’m exceptionally productive and extraordinarily creative. I write it to get better, to be better and hope that what I put on the page helps me as much as it helps you. It may not be authentic, but I sure want it to be.

If being authentic is keeps you from being who you want to be or doesn’t seem to get where you where you want to go, try something inauthentic. Find a mask, try it on and see what happens. It may not work, but if you aren’t happy with where you are, staying true to that is only going to keep you from who you are meant to be.


  1. yep, this version of me is a serious improvement. Sad, but true  

15 Responses to Finding Your Kabuki Mask

  1. Very true regarding tools – the advice you follow, if any, has to be filtered through the results you want. And even that has to be calibrated with your own personal compass. Can’t think of a single instance where blind following went well…

    It also assumes that authenticity is this stable metric, that it means the same thing all the time. The Kabuki masks we wear may tell more about us – as well as to us – than they hide.

    • I don’t know, still think there is something to be said for unstructured experimentation. I wouldn’t have ever gotten on the path I’m on if not for that. But at a certain point, you are spot on. You have to hone in and make a game plan.

      Agree that the masks do more to tell than they do to hide, but more often then not they aren’t going to show the full story.

  2. There are two words were are used, and abused online and offline these days: authenticity and passion.

    I guess it all comes down to how you define both. For me, authenticity means being who you are. So in this case how can you NOT be who you are? Let’s say I appear tomorrow as the new online/affiliate guru online, who am I? A scam. I’m authentic, I portray myself to others as a scammer.

    When you were a punk you were authentic to who you were. You decided to express it in a different way.

    We all have values from growing up. These values don’t really change, they might express themselves differently but who we really are is set. We do not have a choice about authenticity. We are authentic by default.

    • This is one of those fun ones that can really spiral into a semantic debate :)

      I agree that they are both overused, but they are important words. When it comes to “authentic”, while semantic, I feel differently. I always believe there is who you are being and who you are at your core. Like you say, values are there since childhood (if not birth) and you are constantly adding skills on top and around that core. For me, when someone says they are being authentic, they are holding true in some way to that core.

      When someone is portraying themselves as a guru and they aren’t , they stray from that core. However, sometimes that is just what might be needed to actually become that guru… like I said… semantic :)

      It isn’t when we lie to others that we become inauthentic, it is when consciously or not, we lie to ourselves.

      • The big assumption here is that everyone is a kind, benevolent, nice, generous person in their core.

        Humanity has proven again and again that assumption is BS.

        Some people have a rotten core (for all sorts of reasons) and by scamming, hurting, stealing others, they are being authentic to their core. 

        • Oh, I wasn’t assuming that at all :) Just that the core is there and you are authentic when you stick to it. Never mentioned the character of the core which can easily go a variety of ways. But just as often, I think you’ll see someone with a good core make a bad decision.

  3. Great post, Michael, and I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between concealing and revealing identity that people do through all kinds of performances — whether on the stage of the theater, the stage of life, or the stage of the internet.  @DannyBrown said something on this topic on Facebook that I am still chewing on:  “there’s no such thing as authenticity.  There’s only our perception of what’s authentic, and that’s usually wrong.”  The other cool thing about this topic: your identity will always be changing and evolving.  Enjoy the journey.

    • While I’m clearly unfamiliar with this Danny Brown person, I stole the hell out of that quote too :)

      While I always look to evolve and change, I still hope that I stay somewhat true to that core I was talking to John about in the comment above. Just a lot easier to be a better you when stay true to who you really are (if that makes any sense :) ).

      • there’s the core of who you are — and then there are the things that express your identity to the outside world.  Some belief systems argue that they’re all Kabuki masks, even things like your identity as a father or husband, let alone your studded leather jacket, or other things that define you to society, and that you can only get to the core by shedding any value you place on these external expressions.  I prefer to integrate the two: how I chose to express myself at any given time is part of who I am, and I love the fact that identity is fluid in this way.  In fact, I’d say that’s a core part of who I am.  But then again, I get bored easily, so maybe that’s it! :-)

        • Couldn’t have put it better myself. It’s nice to put on those masks, but most of the time, I hope the reflect as much of the core as possible. Then again, every once in a while, it’s a lot of fun to go as far away from it (while still being a decent human of course) as possible. To try and scare the crap out of yourself with a challenge that seems as far from what you think your capable of as possible. Certainly helps keep the boredom away.

  4. I struggle off and on with writing a blog about “how to build a better blog” when I am, at times, the worst blogger around. Inconsistent at best – out in left field playing with my spikes and not paying attention at worst.

    I want to be “authentic” to my readers/audience/fan/enemies – but, at times, I’m not even sure what that means.

    • But to a certain extent, as long as you put that upfront, you’re actually doing your readers a favor. Writing with any level of consistency is damn hard work. Being willing to say that and having that reflected in what you write, rather than just offering stock advice you don’t take yourself, is what makes people relate.

      No one expects perfection, they just want something they can relate to and use. Hell that’s why I always try to approach things from the standpoint of sucking a little less. It’s far easier to achieve than perfection…

      To some extent, as long as you are giving your stuff a hard read and don’t think you’re totally bullshitting your reader, you are probably on the right track.

    • But to a certain extent, as long as you put that upfront, you’re actually doing your readers a favor. Writing with any level of consistency is damn hard work. Being willing to say that and having that reflected in what you write, rather than just offering stock advice you don’t take yourself, is what makes people relate.

      No one expects perfection, they just want something they can relate to and use. Hell that’s why I always try to approach things from the standpoint of sucking a little less. It’s far easier to achieve than perfection…

      To some extent, as long as you are giving your stuff a hard read and don’t think you’re totally bullshitting your reader, you are probably on the right track.

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