For as long as I can remember, I have wavered between seeking attention and hiding from it.
From all the stories my mother tells of me being bold — streaking naked through the living room during her Marriage Encounter meetings, belting out the lyrics of a horribly suggestive 1970’s song called “Do it ’til you’re satisfied” in public— I can count thousands more where I hid behind a bellbottom pant leg, or when my words got caught in my throat.
As I got older, my methods of hiding and seeking grew more sophisticated. I hid in the back of the classroom, hoping not to be called on. I hid my feelings from my parents, especially my father who was quick to disapprove. I hid my writing ambitions from everyone except my journal.
But after school, I’d go on auditions, and dance in front of the television and take singing lessons and dream of being famous, because what I also wanted was to be seen. The tension of these opposites was ever-present and not easily reconciled. Other people were confused by the way I showed up too: teachers would call on me, possibly thinking that because I did well on tests, I might actually have something to say in the room. (Nope.) Directors would hire me for roles because I was great in a room one-on-one, but when I got on set, I’d freeze. (I was fired more than once.)
Rarely did I stop to think about the motivation behind this behavior until I got into therapy as a teen. By then I was also hiding my rage. I was mad at my father who hid at home and liked to tell me that life was not a three ring circus. I was mad at my fun-loving mother who acted like it was. Two opposing forces. Sometimes I felt like a wishbone. Mostly I felt invisible.
Therapy gave me insight, but the pattern continued. The push to be seen, the pull of holding myself back. I’ve made a career out of working hard behind the scenes, supporting visionaries who love the limelight. In many cases, it’s been rewarding work, and in all cases, a brilliant opportunity to learn something new. But when I stop moving so quickly and finally listen in, what my heart wants more is to be recognized for my contribution— and not just recognized by said visionaries, but by the world at large.
I want to do my own thing.This realization comes on the heels of the release of my first non-fiction book. But I use the term “my” loosely in this case. On the cover, my name can be found in tiny letters under my co-author’s. There’s no one to blame here. I agreed to the terms of the project. What I didn’t see coming were the big unruly feelings that came up around achieving a lifelong goal of mine. In the movie version of this story, my name is above the title. More importantly, all the ideas are mine.
Why is this important? Why can’t I be Zen about the order of things, take it in stride, be detached and otherworldly?
It feels vulnerable to admit any of this matters, because admitting it makes me feel like a vain, ego-centric jerk, and I really would prefer that you like me. But I’m tired of selling myself out by being too nice, too easy-breezy-what-everyone-else-wants and not at all me. I’m sick of being gaslit by those who bury my contributions and feel like it’s their exclusive right to take center stage. Underneath all the nice, I’m still angry. Mostly at myself.
There’s no benefit in pretending like I’m Lana Turner sitting at Schwab’s pharmacy just waiting to be discovered. Truth: if I want to be seen, I can’t hide who I really am anymore. That includes not hiding all the crap I’m telling you right now. And definitely not making it all pretty and perfect.
I don’t want all the attention. There’s plenty to go around. I do want to stop being scared of the spotlight and get on with sharing any gifts I have with the world. Then it’s not about me anymore, it’s about us. And here’s what I really want for all of us: To come out of hiding for ourselves, and seek connection over comparison. Because when we do that, we’re dancing — or streaking — in the moment, and with one another. When we do that, we’re free.
No one is coming to save (or discover) me, and that’s perfect.
Ready or not, here I come.