In this age of people sharing everything from their lunchtime burger to their family vacations on social media, it would seem that none of us have a problem being seen.
But being looked at isn’t the same as being truly seen.
It’s not a big risk to share a meme or join in the latest Facebook argument over whether we just swore in the savior of the free world or a misogynistic Cheeto. But revealing your whole, true self to the world (and no, half-naked selfies don’t count)…that’s an entirely different animal.
And it’s easier said than done. I know, because I wasn’t willing to do it for a very long time.
Like, oh…for about four decades.
I was a shy kid. I dreaded the thought of being front and center (oral book report = raging panic attack). But secretly, I found the idea of being acknowledged very appealing. Having people think I was funny, talented, interesting, inspiring…or maybe even all of those things.
But as soon as my daydream haze evaporated, it was immediately replaced by a paralyzing fear of the potential flipsides to being singled out:
And I decided (on some level too deep for me to understand at the time) that I was better off incognito.
I told myself I was more of a “behind the scenes” person. I was meant to support the stars, not be one myself.
The stagehand, not the actor.
The announcer, not the announced.
Not surprisingly, the aforementioned roles played themselves out perfectly in – of all places – my elementary school talent show.
When I was in fourth grade, a few of my girlfriends decided we should form a dance group and do a routine to showcase our mad skills. It was the early dawning of the disco era, and we were fascinated by the colorful fashion and spirited gyrations we saw on Soul Train. So, of course, we were determined to emulate both perfectly.
In retrospect, I’m fairly certain that what we thought were smooth moves made us look like we required an antispasmodic. And the outfits were a sight to behold: denim shorts and halter tops with an explosion of sequins across our non-existent chests. But we loved these getups so much that the group was christened…
…wait for it…
So, we began rehearsing. And it was so much fun. I loved dancing and being part of something I thought was totally cool. I pictured us taking the stage and the crowd going wild.
But then the day of the show got closer.
And I did the worst thing any performer can do.
I started thinking. A lot.
Maybe I’m not all that good. I mean, I did accidentally stomp on Cindy’s foot when we practiced yesterday. And Lisa is so much taller and thinner than me. I probably look like a glittery oompah-loompah in that outfit. I should’ve voted that we wear sweatshirts.
The next day, I went to the group and said that I felt like I didn’t have the steps down as well as I should, and I didn’t want to ruin their chance of winning the competition. But I would be happy to stand behind the podium and introduce them as they took the stage.
At first I was relieved. Whew! Now no one will see me screw up.
Then I was mad at myself. Yeah, but now they won’t see you at all. Good job, disco dumb-ass.
But I wasn’t upset enough to change the pattern of hiding in plain sight that governed my life going forward.
That is, until I hit my mid-forties. And I couldn’t avoid doing the math that told me – if God and good genes were on my side – my life was possibly half over.
It was time to not only get going, but to get the hell over myself.
To drag my absurd, self-inflicted paranoia out into the light of reason, and ask it some pointed questions:
So, what exactly happens if you write a shitty book?
People will hate it. They’ll hate me. I’ll look like an idiot.
Well, you are perfectly capable of looking like an idiot without writing a damned thing. Have you seen yourself practice yoga?
That may seem like a ridiculous exchange. But it’s no more ridiculous than allowing yourself to be boxed in by concerns (most of them fantastic works of mental fiction) that others won’t approve of who you really are.
And what if they don’t give you their kudos, high-fives or rave reviews?
At first, you’ll just survive it.
Then you’ll thrive in spite of it.
Lastly, you’ll wonder why you ever wasted a precious second of your existence jonesing for approval instead of nurturing your next great idea.
Of course, it’s preferable to be liked and lauded. And it’s not wrong to want that.
But it is wrong to withhold your true self – and all the gifts and talents contained within it – until you’re sure the coast is clear of naysayers, haters and trolls.
‘Cause that ain’t never gonna happen, my friends.
But here’s the good news.
You don’t have to wait for a “do the math” moment like mine.
You can kick fear in the ass, and start showing us all of your true colors.
And you can do it today.
Here are a few simple action steps to get you going:
Start Small – So, you’re not ready for a full-on art exhibit? At least pull your paintings out of exile and unveil them to a few close friends or fellow artists. Hang them in your living room. Get used to seeing your work residing someplace other than the garage.
Solicit Support – Taking off your mask is serious business. When you’ve spent years (or a lifetime) presenting only a fraction of who you really are, it can be truly frightening to consider going for the full monty. So, don’t do it alone. Ask friends, family, or even an online group to help you shore up the strength to write the book, start the blog, or sing that song.
Shine, Shine, Shine – Once you’ve taken even the tiniest baby step out from the shadows, there is no going back. Thank God. Because what seems like a timid little hop forward to you, is a gargantuan leap to someone who is watching from the sidelines. Don’t deride yourself because you haven’t yet written the great American novel. There is a person out there who is in awe that you wrote and published a guest post. Letting your light shine to any degree possible gives them permission to do the same…and then some.
So, let us see what you’ve kept hidden so far.
The words. The music.
The comedy. The art.
The gift for healing.
The truth. Your truth.
Because the rest of you, is truly the best of you.