Mask-wearing, role-playing and being myself

Today I welcome Peter Martin to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series. He talks candidly about how, when he first started working, he tried to copy those he admired, and also about when it is and isn’t appropriate to wear a mask…

When I fell off the conveyor belt that is education I graduated with a degree in Youth and Community work but at the age of 23 had little life experience to complement it. I found myself quickly in a part-time role where I was in front of groups of young people leading group work programmes focusing on personal development. It was sink or swim time!

As a graduate I weaved together all my experiences of role models and taught myself to mimic them. I remember thinking of Mr Farrell in our church who when he felt the need to issue a command spoke like he was about to go through you. Yet he was popular with us as everyone knew the boundaries and knew he was in charge. It was no surprise then that when I started to work within a juvenile detention centre in Dublin I would occasionally ask myself: ‘what would Mr Farrell do’? As I got my answer I would put a mask on, role-play, and, much to my surprise, it worked!

Fast forward a few years and a few different posts and I found myself in management. As I sat at the board table was the real me the upper half of my body that spoke with authority and fairness or was it my lower half that trembled?

I currently hold the post of youth and children’s coordinator for a local church. I am now frequently before our youth and children and I’m funny, loud, energetic, warm and often mischievous. However as someone who suffers from chronic fatigue and who is no stranger to anxiety am I being me, have I been authentic or am I just wearing a mask?

The answer is I am being both, as opposed to either-or. Sometimes it’s appropriate to wear a mask and sometimes it isn’t. The important thing is to know who you are. To know when you should wear a mask and when you shouldn’t. Be aware that these are traitorous waters full of the dangerous temptations of believing your own hype.


One of my heroes can be found in the Youth For Christ (YFC) institution that is John Duncan (JD) an old colleague of mine. This man has held local, national and international posts and exceled at them all. He has energy to burn and vision and creativity to give away by the truck load.

In the early days of our working relationship as we grafted shoulder to shoulder I tried to copy his persona and to keep up with his unbelievable pace. This was a BIG mistake as I quickly wore out and the grumpy dog in me that surfaces when tired all too often came to the surface. Worse than that, Youth For Christ didn’t need a second JD!

As it turned out what they needed was someone to come behind the visionary and after the dust settled to gently put in place a plan to achieve the vision. The relief I felt as I dropped the duplicate JD mask, and found my own role, was incredible. I was startled to realise that what YFC needed and why the Lord wanted me in this post was to be me, not him.


Experience teaches me that there are times when wearing a mask is a necessity and there are times when it is clearly not and can even be dangerous. I guess as with many things in life the main question is around why you would want to wear a mask.

You are called to be the best you can be and, while you do that, you are also asked to process and deal with what’s not good within you. To deliver that with an accurate self-awareness is real authenticity and should be nurtured.


Peter Martin lives on the Ards peninsula of County Down, Northern Ireland. He is married with two dogs – Cuba, a big friendly German Shepherd, and Lola, a busy Border Terrier who thinks she runs the house – and may just be right! Peter has his own blog, which can be found at

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