This is part 21 of a series on vision. You can read previous installments here:
Part 1. Part 2. Part3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.
One of the universal principles of life is reciprocity.
As above, so below. The internal is reflected in the external. I can give only what I can receive.
For the past 3 weeks, I’ve been writing about vision, exploring it from a range of angles and through various lenses.
Following the principle of reciprocity, any comprehensive examination of vision would be incomplete without examining vision from the other side.
If my capacity to give is determined by my capacity to receive, then it follows that my ability to see — to create vision — is defined by my willingness to be seen.
Putting traditional human needs hierarchies aside for a moment, I often say that our greatest universal human needs are to be seen and heard.
This is also one of our deepest fears.
If we want to create a compelling vision, then we must bring this fear to the front of the room and examine it. That’s what I’m going to do here, by sharing with you my fear of visibility.
Nobody is born with a fear of visibility. When you were a baby you cried to get attention. You wanted people to see you and hear you. The fear of visibility is learned and conditioned. To dissolve it, we must find its origins.
Outer: Being Seen on the Surface
The roots of my fear of being seen were planted in my childhood, with a few pivotal experiences.
When I was growing up, I often stood out, physically. I was always taller than most of my friends, and I was very skinny. This combination of physical features invited comments from acquaintances and strangers alike — the types of comments that, if directed to heavy people are automatically recognized as inappropriate. In fifth grade the girls in the locker room called me anorexic; I had to look up what it meant. Adults asked if I ate enough. The boys in school teased me for being flat-chested.
I often wished I could be invisible.
Around my friends, I would often hunch over by rounding through my upper back. It was how I tried to keep myself safe: diminishing my appearance so that I wouldn’t stand out, so that I wouldn’t draw attention and comments pierced my self-esteem.
Of course, that didn’t really work. When you’re a foot taller than your friends a little rounding through your shoulders won’t make you suddenly disappear into the crowd. But it set a pattern and the posture for my life, physically and otherwise.
This experience combined with several beliefs that I inherited and absorbed from those around me. These included the beliefs that:
- Children should be seen and not heard.
- Problems and challenges should be kept private.
- Sharing your success is bragging and is in poor taste. Good merchandise speaks for itself.
- You shouldn’t do anything to bring unwarranted attention to yourself.
Be good in school. Buckle down. Listen to your teachers. Conform. Don’t get in trouble.
Even in realms where I was confident in my abilities and doing “good” things, I knew that being visible would lead to a critique of my appearance or performance. Appearance is important, according to my conditioning. How things looked. How I looked.
Inner: Being Seen on the Inside
Of course appearance is just the surface issue. Visibility is also about being seen for what’s inside.
The best definition I’ve ever heard of intimacy is into me, see.
To be seen is to allow others to look inside us, at our souls. And what if they don’t like what they see there?
Even more terrifying: what if I don’t like what I see when I look within myself?
It’s a question I asked myself repeatedly, and the fear that keeps many people from doing the inner work.
This is About Survival
Fear of visibility is directly related to our survival instincts.
To be visible is to be exposed, to face rejection. In terms of our hard-wiring, rejection is equated to death. If you don’t belong to a tribe you’re left alone in the elements.
And this is why there’s so much tension around visibility.
On one hand we can only connect with others if we are willing to be seen. On the other hand, to be seen exposes us to rejection, which is death.
So this is a thing.
And what I know is that the fear cannot win. Especially for those of us who are visionaries, who have big work and big missions. My work in this world — my true calling — requires that I be seen and heard. Fitting in is not an option; indeed, it never was.
By trying to fit in I am merely blocking my own vision, resisting the calling from my higher source. You cannot run from your destiny.
My Fear of Publishing This
I’ve written several versions of this over the past few weeks and months, and as I go to hit publish I’m filled with doubt about whether I said what I wanted to say in the right way. There is so much more on this topic. Maybe I should rewrite it.
I know this is the voice of resistance. One of the reasons I started publishing daily was to force me to override that doubt and share my work.
But some pieces feel different. I am often hesitant to share personal stories in this way on the blog. It feels self-indulgent. Of course, I recognize that this is a conditioned belief.
The truth is that the times when I have dared to be seen in my truth have been the times of my greatest service to and connection with others. Whether it was through a written piece or something I shared from the stage in a talk, or from the audience at a conference or event, those moments resonated with others.
Fear of visibility is real, but the willingness to be seen is necessary. The way out is through: by shining a light on the fear, and by acting despite it. Over and over again.
- If that feels excessive or overly indulgent, I invite you to consider that our vision is what sets our destination. It directs our choices for what we work on, what we study, who we associate with, and every other aspect of how we spend our time. We might hold a particular vision for years, until it no longer fits. In that context, it feels warranted to spend a few weeks connecting with and clarifying my vision. ↩