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.
Great post as always Mary! Taking that first step is the hardest. I can’t believe that under a year ago the mere thought of even having an online presence sent me into panic attacks. Now, I’ve got a book out! One step at a time, right?!
So happy you liked the post, Zara! And you’re so right…one step at a time is all we can do. 🙂 And speaking of steps, you’ve taken quite a few of them over the past year! You’re out there in the world with your first book in a series, and I for one can’t wait for the rest of them. 🙂 Congrats, and keep on going!
Your post, Mary gives a sense of the energy & freedom you’ve found. Way to go! It seems to me, one of the saddest and most regrettable situations would be to find oneself on their deathbed, regretting the things left undone, even untried due to fear of failure. I view all of my life as a learning opportunity. Even if we “fail” there is still learning to be appreciated and that helps broaden and deepen our understanding of ourselves and others. And from that position, we approach our next day more open to possibilities. I’m so happy for you that you have taken that leap of faith.
Thank you so much for the kind and wise words, Mary. It’s so true that everything can be appreciated as a learning experience, whether we succeed or supposedly fail. It’s taken me a long, long time to finally take that leap of faith and follow my dreams. But I’m so glad I did…it’s turned my entire world around. 🙂
Mary…first some strokes for your ego. I passed the past hour reading your stuff and laughing my, yes, ass off! You have many skills as I have discovered….but…you have conquered, IMO, the toughest form of writing, telling a story in prose and being honestly funny.
Nothing worse than reading something by someone who somehow got published who thinks they are Mark Twain and failed miserably.
Okay. Here’s your stroke. You are on the same level as America’s beloved author. All you need is some paddle wheel experience on the Mississippi.
For anyone who may read this, Mary recently did an edit job on my third novel. I’ll soon be asking her to do the same on my fourth. Here’s the interesting point I make. I spent a long life (not saying how many years) avoiding what I love, writing. At a very old age ( not saying how old) and with a multitude of health problems( not saying what they are) I dove into the world of writing fiction.
At a very old age (again, none of your business how old) I am having the time of my life. And believe me, I come close to saying,” I’ve done it all.”
Thank you Mary Hughes for stroking my ego!
Wow…thank you so much, Richard. This is truly high praise, and hopefully Mr. Twain isn’t spinning in his grave at the thought of you mentioning my name and his in the same sentence…lol! But I will do my best to live up to the standards of the one you were kind enough to compare me to. 🙂
It’s a brave thing to embrace your creative gifts at ANY age, and sadly many people don’t ever do it. But even if most of your life was spent running from the Muse, you are more than making up for any lost time. I was honored to edit “Donavan & Jude” (a great love story…full of passion and adventure), and would be more than happy to work with you on your next novel…and the next! 🙂
This possibly isn’t the right post to put these comments on, but I thought I would share. Thank you for taking the time to send your happiness tips to me, they were very timely. I love your tip – Magnify The Minutiae – which to me is similar to Ester Hicks – Rampage of Appreciation.
I had quite a shock the other day. I have been drafting a book with the intention of showing the correlation between my emotional state and the events in my life some of which have been amazing. I started something similar some years ago without finishing it as because I’m not mega ‘successful’ I didn’t think I had anything valid to say and I am now 59. However, my approach currently is just to relate what has happened at various times and let people decide for themselves whether it is coincidence or some universal law.
One amazing thing was, back in 2000 I created a ‘wish box’. In it I wrote I wanted a partner like my first boyfriend Nigel (who I had had no contact with for 28 years) and that eventually I wanted to retire in the Scottish Highlands (we lived in the south east of England – 600 miles from Scotland). There were other things too but they would take longer to relate here and were the things that I was actually more focused on – I didn’t actually think much about Nigel or Scotland at all after I put them in my box but during this period (2001-early 2002) I was happy, meditating, with no real worries everyday. BUT! In May 2002 Nigel contacted me via the ‘Friends Reunited’ website, and he was already in the Scottish Highlands. In October 2003 we were married and I moved to the Highlands.
Last week, as a result of starting to write my book, I re-read what I had written in 2006. Over the last 10 years, I have not been so very happy and things have slowly gone downhill. However the shock came last week when I read an exercise I had done back in 2006 where I described my day from hell. I realised I was living this day almost exactly as written, even down to being in an office with no view – I work in a room where the window is only three feet from the next building’s wall!
I could go on with all sorts of other things, but what this has all brought home to me that happiness is key, go with the flow don’t try to force it, that we go through life creating on default if we aren’t careful.
Also don’t write things down unless it’s what you really want – the universe really doesn’t seem to know the difference!
You’re totally fine to post this here, Elaine! 🙂 And you’re on a key point with the observation that we need to be careful about what we wish for – particularly when we write it down. Our words have incredible creative power, as you’ve experienced in both the positive and negative sense. Me, too!