Be Seen: Why It’s Scary, and How ‘Seen’ Means Taking Ownership Of Your Life

“Be seen,” my fingers tap upon the keyboard. It’s two days before the start of ALIVE in Berlin, an inaugural conference experience unlike anything the continent of Europe has ever seen.

As I type, I flashback to the Loughborough pub where Jana and I sat for a three-hour lunch, six months prior. She told me then about this conference, her idea-baby, which was finally synthesizing after years of work. I stopped off in that quaint town in the English countryside just for this. And for three piping hot Americanos, desperate was I to stay awake for my three-train journey to York that afternoon.

The flashback is short. The blinking cursor draws my attention again.

On this Facebook group, I’m hoping to share something meaningful to dozens of tiny pictures of faces and some names I can’t pronounce. These are the icons and avatars of people who in two days will attend this conference, and I, as a contributor to the event, feel called to do some ounce of inspiring before we arrive.

I’ve been in their place, after all. Standing on the edge of something unknown that you know will be meaningful and deeply important–you just aren’t quite sure how.

Be seen. I mean to not lurk in the shadows. Don’t be afraid. Don’t closet your truth. Don’t put off your dreams. Take ownership of what you say you desire. Stand tall. Be proud of who you are. Whatever you say, say it with conviction–not because you’re righteous or all-knowing, but because you believe in yourself.

Be seen.

“Ah, there you go– preaching again,” my Doubt Head whispers. “Social media prophet, or a well-journeyed sage, which is it this time? Tell me, where have you been and what have you seen to give advice to a room full of strangers?”

I shun the voice of shame this time– the one who is always hovering there, raising questions, teasing. I feel good that this advice is worth remembering.

I wish that I had heard it a few years ago when I was awaiting the start of the first conferences that I had ever attended. It was Blog World Expo NYC and the inaugural World Domination Summit, which followed just weeks later. I was nervous. I didn’t know what I was getting into or why. I don’t think I stopped perspiring from nerves for a straight month.

How strange for those of us who are so conditioned to interacting with humans in non-human form (online) that interacting in human-form would give us reason to fret?

Even still, here I am, hoping some “sage advice” in non-human form might help these humans fret a little less.

Being seen can be a terrifying thought.

It’s why public speaking is a bigger fear than dying, according to various polls. I think it’s because we’re so conditioned to not being seen. We’re used to eyes passing by us. Over us, like water. We’re used to strangers looking through us.

We’re probably guilty of the same. Not really “seeing” people, I mean. Our eyes run over them. We don’t sit and sink into a deep conversation because… well, who has the time for that? We don’t really realize that we’re doing it–it’s just that we get so caught up in our heads, and in our thoughts and inner monologue, and in our To-Do lists and in rushing from one point to the next.

Or is all of that just an excuse?

Do we choose to remain unseen because staying unseen is comfortable? It’s easier to rush down the street with your head down. More certain to pop in your headphones than to risk a conversation with someone random on the bus.

It’s easier to just keep behind a computer screen than to walk across a room you’ve never stepped foot in before to shake a stranger’s hand at ALIVE in Berlin. It’s more comfortable to hide in the back row of that yoga class instead of camping out up front and risking having your imperfect Virabhadrasana I critiqued by the crazy-bendy girl in the row behind you.

I know that being seen is good. I don’t know why, but I know that it is.

Just like I know that giving someone the benefit of the doubt is always right. Just like I know that listening is more important than speaking, and that there’s no such thing as “too many thank yous.”

It sounds good. It feels right.

But why is it?

I think that “being seen” is a part of the process of receiving what you want and need.

To be seen is the synthesis of desire.

Because you can’t hide from your desires if you really want them. You can’t sorta-dream and still see them happen. You cannot invest half of your heart and say it’s what you fully love. Being seen–fully, totally, for who you really are and what you really want, need and desire–is part of what it takes to prove to yourself and to the world that you are completely invested. Responsible. Committed.

If you’re being seen, you’re inviting something else to happen next. Even if you’re nervous. Or terrified. It’s why we date, travel, and step nervously into conferences and yoga classes.

Being seen is scary for that very reason. When you’re seen, something else comes next. Seen invites handshakes and questions. It invites smiles and conversations. Seen brings love. Seen is human. Seen is life.

Almost three years ago, I made a habit to be seen more and more. I hated it.

I wrote about my personal experiences more. I shared more pictures and family life. I opened up to reveal more than I felt comfortable with. I even started to plop my mat at the front of the yoga room, right beside the pink-haired, tattooed, vibrant yogini named Debbie who could flip upside down and damn near levitate.

My poses weren’t good. I hated that feeling of eyes watching me, even if they weren’t watching at all. The possibility was there. The possibility of being seen made me nervous.

But I got used to it.

I felt myself become more and more conditioned to being seen.

It was a practice. An intention. Something worth doing because it made me better at feeling uncomfortable. Being seen was making me more resilient.

But the possibility of being “looked at” wasn’t as scary as the possibility of being talked to after class.

That made me more nervous. It feels ridiculous to say that. I know now that “being seen” was so scary to me because I knew that I couldn’t hide when I was being looked at in the eyes. You can’t hide when you’re there, being talked to. And encouraged. Or held accountable.

That’s the real “terror” of being seen, whether in yoga or on the street, at a conference or anywhere else.

Being seen means something comes next.

Being seen means there’s nowhere to hide.

Being seen means you own your words and actions, online and off.

Being seen means being responsible to yourself and to those around you.

Being seen means committing. Coming back to yoga class next week, or writing that book that you say you really want to write.

Three months after “being seen” at those first conference experiences, I self-published my first book. Nearly three years after walking into a yoga class on my own, now that pink-haired woman is a great friend whom I love dearly. She is teaching me how to become a yoga teacher, myself.

Being seen means “something comes next.”

I think that we all understand that, deep down. On a subconscious level. We feel it in our bellies.

When you’re “seen” by people, responsibility finds you. It may be a simple responsibility like remembering some new names and faces, where they’re from, what they need your help with. Those same people might do the same for you. They might keep you accountable to a goal you say you have. They might email you a week or two later offering you help.

And there it is. Your goals, no longer silent figments. Your dreams, no longer shame-dotted whispers. The world knows them, now. People are invested in you. You’re responsible to them. You’re responsible to yourself.

In the end, we choose to be seen because we owe it to ourselves, our dreams and desires to invite whatever it is that must come next.

Being seen is scary because it will mean that you will be called, compelled, encouraged and responsible to step into the unknown–when it’s so much easier to think about the unknown from a place that’s known and comfortable.

Yeah. But if you had told me all of this when I was first walking in those “doors,” I might not have walked in at all.

That’s why, instead, I’ll just say, “Be seen.”

It is the best advice that I can give, whether you’re walking into a two-day conference in the heart of Berlin or shuffling into your first yoga class. It’s scary to be seen, even if you know you’re walking into a family of strangers: yogis who don’t judge, just love; or a group of ALIVERs, good people who care to live fully.

Don’t worry about what comes next.

(Whatever does, welcome it with open arms.)

Until then, just be seen.

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