I thought I had overcome my fear of peer pressure when I was 16, but this coronavirus experience has proved me wrong. I started wearing a mask outdoors in April mostly because nearly everyone where I live in Boulder, Colorado was doing so. I'm a serious germaphobe, but even I thought this was overkill on our easy-to-social distance neighborhood streets. However, we’re still learning about this virus, wearing my mask seemed to make my neighbors feel more comfortable being outdoors, and to be honest, my fear of being judged by my neighbors made me feel more uncomfortable than the mask itself. I followed the crowd.
I’ve spent the last week in Vail, Colorado, where wearing masks outdoors is not the norm. I wore a mask for my first hike of the week on a much-more-crowded-than-anticipated trail. I was the only person wearing a mask. I felt a prick of peer pressure and fear of being judged, but after seeing the parking lot full of license plates from our nation’s hotspots, I was thankful to be wearing my mask. A week later, I met a friend for a three-hour hike on a much less crowded trail. He was not wearing a mask. About halfway through the hike, I remembered a story I had heard about a man who contracted the virus after a two-hour socially distanced outdoor conversation with his neighbor. I started getting nervous about the idea of hiking for three hours in the wake of my friend’s unmasked breath, but I didn’t want to be perceived as an uptight worrywart, so I made up a bogus excuse to walk in front of him. I felt much more comfortable for the rest of the hike, but I was disappointed in myself.
I broke my commitment to tell the truth at a time when candor could have been of service. From my experience, there are many people putting their own health at risk because they are afraid to admit that they feel uncomfortable.
I’m grateful for the courage recent events have inspired in me and in others. This moment made me realize that sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is to admit that you are afraid. It helps the people around you understand different perspectives, it helps others realize they are not alone, and it often inspires behavior change.
In honor of candor, and my aunt who passed away this week (you can read more about that here), I am going to wear my mask inside AND outside from now on. When I hike with others who don’t want to wear a mask, I’m going to ask them to walk behind me.
Because I’m aware of the HEALTH RISKS OF WEARING MASKS WHILE EXERCISING, I’m not going to press my hiking buddies to wear them. By wearing my mask, I’m hoping to simply spark more dialogue among my friends.
If you’re debating whether to wear a mask outdoors, you can read more about the health risks and see tips for wearing a mask while exercising here.
If there's a one in 10 million chance that wearing a mask outdoors will save a life, make someone more comfortable being outdoors, or help others get into the habit of wearing masks indoors, I’m happy to do it. In addition to my commitment to candor, I’m also committed to a respectful dialogue on this issue. I welcome your thoughts.
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