What would you reveal to the world if you weren’t afraid?

Chances are that there’s a piece of you that you aren’t sharing with others. We all have things we hide. Sometimes they’re our deep dark secrets. But other times, they’re the best parts of ourselves—our dreams, our hopes, or even our affection for others.

Somehow though, we all walk around the world with masks on, protecting ourselves from being fully seen, or from the risk of being judged.

But what would happen if we removed those masks for a moment?

I gave removing my “invisible mask” a try earlier this year as I faced a battle with long COVID and had to lean on others for support. I used to think that reaching out for help implied weakness, that strong people don’t complain and can tough it out. Now, I believe the opposite: admitting you can’t do it on your own is not weak at all.

In fact, the single most important thing that helped me through this terrifying health battle was learning to be vulnerable. I also discovered that when I let my guard down and shared my struggles with other people, they started to feel safe enough to open up and share their hidden struggles with me.

If sharing ourselves is so powerful, what stops us from opening up? I believe we make the false assumption that we’re alone in our emotions. Of course, if we’re being completely rational, we know that other people also feel love, joy, sadness, fear, anger, shame, and guilt, just like us. We’re not alone at all.

So, how we can start peeling off our invisible masks and be real with one another? I’ve learned four things that can help:

1.    Start with one person. If there’s an issue you’re dealing with, you don’t need to reveal it to everyone at once. Start small. Pick someone and let this person know what you’re going through. Even this small step can be a huge release and offer you relief.

In sharing your authentic self with someone else, you create a space for that person to open up as well. I’ve learned that it only takes one person to inject vulnerability into a space and transform it. Perhaps that person could be you.

2.    Get comfortable with discomfort. Sometimes when we share ourselves openly, it feels uncomfortable because we’re not used to being vulnerable. It’s not surprising, really. We’ve been taught from a young age to act like everything is OK, so revealing the raw truth is likely to feel a bit awkward at first.

What I discovered in removing my mask was that on the other side lay connection—a deep human connection so powerful that it completely blew me away. Once I started connecting with people on a deep level, I realized that it was definitely worth my initial temporary unease.

The good news is that as we get more practice in being our true selves with others, our initial discomfort dissipates, and authenticity becomes the norm.

3.    When you’re unsure, ask. One of the things that made me self-conscious about sharing myself with others was wondering whether I was being a burden. What I learned is when you’re unsure, just ask!

At one point in my battle with COVID, I said to a few close people in my life, “I know you have a lot going on in your life. Will you tell me if I’m too much to handle?” One colleague answered, “I love being able to help,” which gave me permission to keep leaning on her. Another friend said, “I’m feeling overwhelmed myself,” so I took that as a cue to be thoughtful about what she was dealing with and take my challenges to others who had more bandwidth.

The takeaway: just being able to “talk straight” with people, rather than wondering silently, can be quite liberating.

4.    Find your cheerleaders. Vulnerability doesn’t mean only sharing your struggles. It includes sharing your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I’ve found that if you can find one or two people who support you unconditionally, it can give you confidence to open up to even more people.

This past year, I wrote Brave Nowa book about my health battle and the life lessons I learned along the way. In the early days of writing it, I shared a first draft with a couple of people in my life whom I consider “cheerleaders.” Their encouraging nudges gave me the boost I needed to keep at it.

Knowing who your cheerleaders are, and unmasking yourself with them to reveal your hopes and dreams, can be extremely empowering.

There is a tax we pay for hiding ourselves. It stifles our freedom, creativity, and self-expression. Yet when we unmask and reveal who we truly are, we not only find more joy and peace for ourselves, but we also contribute to others by igniting them with our light.

**Originally published at InnerSelf