Last Thursday, the non-profit I work for held a huge event, celebrating the youth who have recently graduated from our programs. I currently run two of those programs, which serve nearly half the youth our programs reach – which means “my section” of youth was the biggest in the entire room. As I sat on stage with my colleagues, I was staring straight down at the nearly 100 people in my program. Every year, I learn all their names, and I try to learn a little piece of their story even though I only encounter them 6 or 7 times during the 8-week season. It’s important to me that every single teenager leaves my program feeling like they were seen, heard, and noticed.
Near the closing of my program’s celebration, my boss gave a shout-out to all of our partners…and then to me. To my shock, my giant group of youth exploded in cheers. My first, most visceral reaction was to bend over myself, my head down. My body literally rebelled, my heart became scared, and I wanted to close everything off.
That’s when I started to feel more shocked than scared. I couldn’t believe this huge group of people was cheering for me. For me. They saw me. They noticed me. They cared.
And then I started feeling so much love. I let myself feel the kindness coming at me and I sat up straighter and pointed out to them, yelling, “I love you guys!”
I was noticed.
This is a pretty big shakeup to the system. I spent most of my life thinking I wasn’t noticeable, at all, and actively trying to keep people from noticing me. I was the Invisible Woman. I thought I had to be, in order to survive. Eventually, I came to wonder if there was anything worth noticing, in the first place.
I did a lot of things to ensure my invisibility. I gained weight. I dressed in baggy, dark clothes. I rarely left my house (though to be fair, I’m a full-on hermit, and there’s nothing wrong with that). I’d even venture to say that the skin problems I dealt with for two decades were a direct manifestation of my terror of being noticed.
Of course, as time moved on, I realized that if I ever wanted to manifest certain dreams – like falling in love with a good man, building a career as a writer, etc. – I’d have to allow myself to be seen. And to that end, I took a whole lot of baby steps to work in that direction. Underneath it all, however, I never really believed I’d be able to get over my terror of being noticed.
Last week, apparently the baby steps went right out the window. It’s too late to be invisible, now. I had nearly 100 teenagers cheering for me just for doing what I always strive to do – showing people that I care about them.
A day after this identity-shifting event, I had my first podcast interview with the lovely Krystal Swift, founder of Onoclea Bath & Body. Doing interviews on my podcast was another “baby step” toward visibility, one that felt almost easy once we got started. Krystal and I actually talked about the theme of visibility, and the history of our friendship (we go back to my Five Seed days.)
It suddenly struck me that starting Five Seed was another step toward visibility – and not really a baby step. It was a huge leap for me. I remember literally trembling when I uploaded my first product on January 15, 2010. And less than 30 minutes later, someone made an order. And the orders kept on coming.
I was, by no means, super successful, as far as finances go. But eventually, I did well enough that everything paid for itself, and I was also able to pay for the rent of the studio space I worked out of. All of this was thanks to people like Krystal – the small band of friends and supporters who kept coming back for more.
I was seen. People noticed me and my products. And more than that – they held me up.
And all the while, I was so scared, I failed to notice that it was happening. I was so scared of people looking at me that I couldn’t see that they were looking. And loving.
How lucky have I been that there was always an alternate plan here? That all my ploys for being invisible would never actually work out? How lucky have I been to have so many angels who threw a spotlight on me, even when I tried to shrink back into the shadows?
I feel like I’m ready now. Go ahead. Look at me.