I didn’t think I’d be guilty of this.
I used to be a cheerleader on my school’s spirit squad — which meant that at halftimes and at pep rallies, the crowd had their undivided attention on my team and me. I’ve performed onstage in many capacities, from dance to piano to flute to musical theatre. As a high school senior I found solace in drama club, and I was nominated by the members of my public speaking class to represent them in front of the village.
It might be a natural conclusion to make that I have no problem with standing center stage — all eyes on me.
Before my stroke, perhaps that would have been the case. But once I felt myself turning inward as a protective response from the attack on my brain that was the stroke, I found a safety there that I still to this day return to when I need a little grounding.
The unconscious decision to amble through my young adulthood more internally than I ever had before hasn’t provided only safety and grounding, though. It has come with a price, and that price is pretty steep.
It’s cultivated a newfound fear of being seen. What does that look like?
It’s when I find myself in a crowd and choose not to speak up for a need I may have. A need for the people standing in front of me to move so that they no longer block my view. It’s never asking someone not to smoke while we’re outside together, internalizing my discomfort at the smell and effect to my health. How I’ll find a seat in the back of a classroom or training audience even when I voluntarily chose to be there to learn. Trying to blend in and not be noticed — not speaking up in classes or Facebook groups or against emotionally manipulative people. Or even not mentioning past accomplishments or experiences — when they would contribute to the flow of conversation — for fear of bragging or out of glorification of being low-key.
It’s any time I mute myself or when I subconsciously believe the authentic me might be “too much,” and I trade that natural me for a diluted, quiet version of myself I don’t recognize as me.
And this fear of being seen absolutely manifested when I did my first “real” Periscope broadcast on Monday afternoon (i.e., me speaking directly to the camera). My heart was racing; I felt the flood of overwhelm as I saw the anonymous viewer count go up — and go down — as though any of that actually mattered.
This first scope was flawed — it probably took me the first three whole minutes to get my phone set up on the tripod and you could feel my nerves running through my body — but at least I did it.
I’d rather imperfectly and unapologetically express myself than continue to play small in my little corner of the Universe. It’s the only way humanity can flourish, if the voices for good and for personal power gain strength rather than getting shut down. Shut down not only by “the other side,” but by themselves and their own fears! Which is what playing small is all about.
It’s what the other side counts on — that our Higher Selves become silenced without intervention. It’s their most insidious secret weapon against us.
I’d had this mounting frustration, this nagging theme running through my life — a voice saying, “Why doesn’t anybody know how awesome I am? Or what gifts I have to give to the world?”
This whiny voice of the martyr could have defined me, but my Higher Self wouldn’t have any of it. The reason why no one knew was because I had cowered in the corner, played the People Pleaser, worshipped humility at the expense of my authentic self.
I believe we all are entitled to generous self-expression, and this fear of being seen can kill so many good fricking ideas. It can numb people from their dreams.
Quieting down our passions helps no one. I, for one, know firmly that I want the world to be better because I lived in it.
That isn’t possible if I don’t up the game. So terrifying myself by forcing myself to be seen — to create, to put myself out there — in order to make myself stronger not only serves me, but gives you permission to do so as well.
Did this resonate with you? How do you struggle with being seen? Leave a comment and let’s explore this some more.