Mask Free Living - John Eli

Expectations can be one of the most difficult things to navigate in the process of growing up. Parents, friends, significant others, and employers all project both explicit and implicit expectations on us. Often, we grow up under the impression that if we do not fully measure up to such expectations we are subsequently failures; that we are not real men. Unfortunately, the constant pressure of these expectations to be something very specific can often lead to taking up destructive coping mechanisms. I want to thank Brother John for the following example of how far from the truth it is that we must meet everyone else’s expectations of us:

I wish that I could tell you a glorious tale of how I rose from rags to riches. However, I’m still no more than a work in progress... Nevertheless, I shamelessly own this part of my journey. Why? Because in times past, I’ve experienced the consequences of pretending to be someone else... All I can say is that the return on investment is never worth it.

Have you ever been the victim of a bad investment? Lord knows that I have…. I spent most of my life investing valuable time and energy trying to prove my value and worth to everyone. At a young age, I was handed a script to follow and I did my best to live up to the expectation given to me. Although the script was not aligned with what I wanted out of life I surrendered to what others wanted from me. If I’m being truthful, I’d have to say that I enjoyed the affirmation and applause that I received. However, deep inside I knew better. My performance and smile fooled others but it couldn’t fool my heart. Deep inside I knew that I was failing as a husband, I was failing as a son, and I was failing as a spiritual leader.

Three years ago, my life fell apart. In a nutshell, I found myself unsatisfied with life. I was surrounded by many stressors that I couldn’t control, and unfortunately, the script handed to me didn’t tell me how to deal with the pain that I felt. On the contrary, my script told me that communicating my feelings and displaying emotions was a sign of weakness. So instead of dealing with my pain, I suppressed it... But suppressing feelings is a temporary fix. It wasn’t long before I found myself developing unhealthy habits to cope with everything. And those unhealthy habits brought another beast for me to battle: shame.

The day came when the mask I wore fell off and the things that I fought to keep in the darkness came to light. That day could very well be described as the worst and best day of my life. The pain that I felt knowing that I disappointed my family was one of the worst feelings that I’ve ever experienced. However, that pain also came with a choice. I could keep living the lie that I had been living, or I could own up to choices and get help. Without the certainty that my wife would want me back but armed with absolute certainty that I was tired of pretending; I made several phone calls that would forever change the course of my life. I called several of my guy friends and confessed everything to them. Some chose to support me, some chose to walk away, but each of those calls symbolized my decision to live a mask-free life. The next few calls involved me recruiting professional help. I knew that there would be a lot to learn and unlearn to create a healthy place for my head and heart to live in.

Three years have passed, and I’m still a work in progress. Nevertheless, I celebrate every milestone that I’ve reached. My marriage has been restored. I have a daily practice of prayer, meditation, and gratitude... And I’m no longer stuffing my feelings. Most of all, I’ve created a space to help other men navigate through difficulties of life. I am here. I am present. I am in... and I invite you to join me.

Thank you for reading John’s story guys! John is a great resource for mindset coaching, and his services are virtual! Hit him up if you need someone to talk to. Remember, the Real Guys Real Talk Blog is for YOU! If you have a story you’d like to share, email it to us at in text, audio, or video format, and be a part of the Dark Blue Crew. The intention here is to encourage one another through understanding we are all dealing with similar difficulties and experiences, and that it’s okay to talk about the things we are going through. In fact, talking about our setbacks is often the first step toward progress.

Cheers guys!

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