Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.
In Life Everyone Wears a Mask
Most often, when I meet the women we hire on their first day of work at the Bean Project, they appear to be suspicious, defensive or even hopeless. Sometimes though, a woman arrives seeming to have it all together, perhaps claiming to need just a little lift to get her back on track. And though a woman who behaves in this way can be pleasant to be around, we know that for her to be successful in the program she will have to confront her reason for coming to the Bean Project in the first place.
In life everyone wears a mask. For some, the mask is an attempt to project to the world that everything is okay. The problem isn’t that she wears a mask, but that she needs the courage to address what is behind it; that is, the barriers to employment and life events that she’s experienced.
Behind the Mask
Masks that come across as self-confidence, righteousness or happiness are often covering fear of rejection or judgment, insecurities, lack of self-worth or hope. As humans, we put up masks to protect ourselves, to put a layer between us and the people we fear will find out who or what we really are. Many of the masks we see at the Bean Project are based in fear; if you know me, you won’t like me, you won’t help me, or you’ll see that I’m not good enough to be helped. The masks are about not feeling worthy, but wanting to create a façade to impress. They might also be rooted in shame that comes from believing one is worthless, unlovable, unforgivable and unchangeable.
What Matters is Where Each Woman is Going
At Women’s Bean Project we have learned to see the masks and know that the masks we wear are not who we are. We have learned that everyone comes to the Bean Project for a reason and no one person’s reason is better or worse than another’s. Instead, what matters is where each woman is going. If we can help her focus on where her life is headed by creating dreams for her future and setting goals to help her get there, perhaps we have the opportunity to lower her mask.
Humans have a tendency to focus on the negative aspect of situations. At the Bean Project we set goals and celebrate accomplishments to ensure that every woman realizes she can reach for her dreams of a better, more productive life. Celebrating goal achievement serves as a reminder to each woman that she knows how to make success happen and can do it again in the future.
Start with Accepting the Truth, Not the Mask
Barriers to employment happen in multiples; they are complex and interwoven. They include histories of addiction and incarceration, lack of education and job skills, low self-esteem and self-worth. We have learned that we are most successful in helping women change their lives when we focus on bringing to bear the resources needed to help them overcome their barriers to employment. When we start with accepting the women, but not the mask they wear, as the truth, we can show them that we are ready to believe in them until they are able to believe in themselves.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO