To understand your persona, or personality, the first thing you need to understand is the root of the word. Persona originally comes from the Greek word for actor’s mask.
Your personality, or persona, despite the fact that it may feel like the real you, is merely the mask you show the world. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a very important thing to understand.
When you can understand your persona, you can understand how to make it work for you and live a better, more fulfilling life. To start you have to look at how your persona originally developed.
How To Understand Your Persona
Development Of Persona
The only people without well formed personas are children and the mentally ill. If you watch a child you’ll see them:
Talk to themselves
Talk to invisible friends
Make weird faces
Speak in nonsensical languages
Dance in the street
When a kid does these things, it’s cute, when an adult does it, it’s mental illness.
Around age 8, as we become more self aware, and with our parents insistence, we start to develop our personas in preparation for joining the tribe of humanity.
Those thoughts that we would randomly blurt out as little children become internalized. We learn to choose what we present to the world. And so begins the divide, between your internal narrative and the mask you wear for the world.
Shame And Acceptance
We learn to mask our feelings and present an image for others. We learn first from our parents and then from our peer group through pain and pleasure. Or more accurately, through shame and acceptance. And of the two, shame is by far the bigger motivating factor for the type of persona you adopt.
You’re taught from a young age what you should and shouldn’t do, and that if you do something wrong, you get punished. And if you don’t do the right thing, you also get punished.
At the family party you want to play with all the other kids. But your mom wants you to go talk to Grandma. You don’t want to talk to Grandma right now, but mom shames you, and Grandma sees mom scolding you to go over to her.
So you go talk to Grandma and you make mom and Grandma happy. Not only do you get social acceptance, but mom might even give you a cookie for being a such a good boy. And so you, as the little boy, learn that you get punished for acting on your instincts, and you get rewarded for putting on a good performance.
You see that mom knew what you really wanted to do, and so did Grandma, but both we’re happy to reward you for your acting skills. You learn that the better you act, the more acceptance you get and the less shame you feel, not just from your family, but from your teachers and your friends.
Persona In Teenage Years
You carry this mentality with you into your teenage years. In fact the majority of stress that teenagers go through is in solidifying and adapting their persona to the real world, and the real world consequences of not fitting in.
Little children don’t have much of an identity, they’re content to run around sweaty and messy all day without even looking in the mirror. But that blissful ignorance of childhood dies as you become self aware.
You start to perceive what other people are thinking. And that you see the need to solidify and protect your identity or else risk being shamed and unaccepted. Being a social outcast in high school is rough.
So you conform to you peer group. You can see this in any popular high school crew, they they’ll be dressed within millimetres of each other and all speak in the same slang.
Persona In Adulthood
You can see the same thing in the corporate world, the same suits, the same business casual clothes, the same shoes, the same corporate buzzwords. There is an archetype in every office, and the closer you are to hitting that, the more acceptance you get.
Politically correct, worksafe, publically supportive of the company, taking orders with gusto – this the persona you’re expected to play in the workplace. If everyone employee expressed themselves honestly everyday, they wouldn’t have a job. Because no one wants to sit in a cubicle doing TPS reports and taking orders and censoring their words and actions, they play the role to make sure they keep getting paid and are accepted in the workplace. The shame of alienation, and the fear of poverty keep the majority of people tied to a desk and playing out their worksafe persona.
Persona On Display In Our Culture
Beyond corporate culture is the cult of celebrity. Where the most powerful and persuasive personas in the game of life are worshiped like demigods by other players in the game. Actors, athletes, musicians and politicians are the pinnacle of our pyramid having elevated their personas to the top through 24/7 commitment.
Look at the Presidency for example, the highest honor in the country. In the two years leading up to that glorious dog and pony show in the sky, candidates are judged on absolutely everything, from their haircut, to their voice, to even the smallest of facial tics – everything that is but their actual policies.
The Presidency, like all elections is a popularity contest. The candidate is judged both on their charm and how “Presidential” of a persona they’re able to present. And at the level there is no room for mistakes. Any un-calculated emotion will cost them the election. If you don’t believe me, just ask Howard Dean, one small display of human emotion, cost him the nomination, and put him onto Chappelle’s Show and into the meme hall of fame.
People say they want an honest politician, but that’s the last thing they want. If a politician expressed his feelings naturally he wouldn’t have a prayer of getting elected. Every opinion needs to be filtered through a focus group and polled before a candidate can present it to the people.
If you want to see an example of a flawless Presidential persona, look no further than Barack Obama. Regardless of his politics (we don’t care about politics here at RLD), he was the slickest politician of our lifetime. Poised, confident, level headed, dignified and no scandals in his personal life.
His persona, combined with his speaking abilities led to women lining up to literally worship him:
How Your Persona Hurts You
Confusing Your Character With Yourself
By the time a man has reached adulthood, he’s been taught by his parents, teachers and peer groups, through shame and acceptance, to create a maintain his persona at all costs.
He then takes that persona with him into the corporate world and solidifies it even further for 40 hours a week. And now the risk of slipping is no longer just alienation, but loss of revenue.
His persona extends across the spectrum to the sexual marketplace. Where presenting the wrong persona will cost him sex and affection from women.
And on top of that, he’s constantly presented with successful personas to emulate through the media. From actor’s to athletes to musicians to CEOs to politicians.
It’s no wonder that many men end up confusing themselves with their character. Adding beliefs and ideologies and identities and layers.
After having acted for so long, and put so many layers on top of themselves, many people end up confusing the character they play with who they really are.
Guys take on labels like vegan or bodybuilder or businessman as what they really are. To the point where you can have a beer with a coworker at work and he’s still selling you on his off time about his passion for creating marketing initiatives. As if he’d still be working at Dunder Mifflin if he won the lottery, instead of spending time with his loved ones.
Because the persona takes so much effort to maintain, and is so sensitive to attacks, most guys end up less happy in adulthood then they we’re in childhood. Even after all the work they’ve done in school and in business to create an ideal life for themselves.
And even worse, when a man confuses himself with his character, the shameful instincts and emotions that don’t fit his persona are denied and repressed forming what Jung calls the shadow self.
Not Accepting Your Shadow Self
If your persona is corporate family man, you’re not supposed to have thoughts like:
“Get the f*ck out of my way, learn how to drive”
“I want to crack this keyboard over my boss’s head”
But you probably do and so do I. I don’t indulge violent thoughts, but they’re there. I don’t try and f*ck every good looking girl I see, but the impulse comes up.
At one point I was ashamed of those thoughts, I denied them, because they didn’t fit my persona, I was a good boy. But those thoughts are as real as all the kind and loving thoughts I have.
How To Make Your Persona Work For You
Understand That The Persona Is Necessary
Now that you can see clearly, it’s easy to see the world as the theater with everyone playing their part. And that’s all fine and good, but insight does not remove you from the game.
If you don’t care about money or shelter or your health then you can act anyway you want.
But for the rest of us it’s a necessary part of the game of life.
Everywhere you go, you’ll be judged on your skill as an actor.
From job interviews, to dates, to parties.
You’ll be judged on your successes and also on your failures.
If you want the good things in the game of life, you have to play for them.
Don’t Confuse Your Character With Yourself
Until you get your own business together, you might have to play a character at work.
Remember that this is your persona – you’re not a TPS report-filling-automaton.
Instead play as much as you have to in the corporate world to get the skills and cash you need to thrive on your own (Check out my book How To Sell to see exactly how to do that.
Accept Your Shadow Self
You don’t have to make your shadow self public, you don’t owe the public that. But you owe it to yourself to accept your socially unapproved thoughts and feelings. Suppressing and denying your desires isn’t healthy.
It’s OK to want to f*ck a lot of girls. And it’s OK to act on that. It’s also OK to acknowledge your desire but not indulge it.
With that said be careful what thoughts you indulge. You might want to crack a keyboard on your bosses head, but ending up in jail is not a smart move in the game of life.
Create The Best Persona You Can For Yourself
Since having a persona is necessary, it only makes sense to build the best one you can for yourself. In the same that in a video game you want to create the best attributes for your avatar.
The good thing is that your persona is incredibly adaptable. In fact the entire personal development industry is built around creating a better persona for yourself, hence the name.
You would be shocked at how much you can change when you put in the work. Just like if you spent 10 hours a day upgrading your character in an MMO, when you spend 10 hours a day upgrading yours avatar in the real world, the results are massive.
Sure you’re bound to certain limitations of the game of life designed by our creator – you can’t fly, or jump through walls, or look like a movie star…
You have an incredible amount of control over your character. And that’s just the basics, as your knowledge of the game deepens you develop the power of influence.
I’m speaking to you from this avatar. A character I designed that pays for my life. I make a living off my persona and the expression of my will. When you understand the game you have the power to create new positive realities, not just for yourself but for others.
Enjoy The Game
When you take on the frame of playing the game of life, living becomes much, much more fun. I get to wake up every day and play the game of life through this body, this persona and this mind. I get to level up, and help people, and date women, and see sunrises, and drive my motorbike, and all the other amazing things to do in the game of life.
Winning the game of life is not about how much you accumulate, it’s about how much you enjoy the game. Just like when you turn on a video game, you don’t play it to be miserable becomes someone else has a higher score than you. You play for enjoyment.
The same applies to life. There is no sense in beating yourself up because some celebrity is having more success than you. Someone will always be better. All you need to focus on is your own game, beating your own personal bests and enjoying the journey. And as you start to level up, enjoy that too.
Think about waking up to play. To walk with lightness of step and spirit. Think about being charming, and greeting everyone you meet. Think about doing something every day to level up your avatar. Think about studying the game and learning how to influence. In short, use your persona to make life as fun as possible.