As I sit in our Cape Town hotel, I’m reminded of a story in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, where Peter Senge describes a South African tribe whose members greet each other not with, “Hello,” but by saying, “I see you.” In response to this is, the other person replies, “I am here.” There’s a lot of substance in this interaction.
Most people yearn to be seen and to be here, living their life fully and authentically.
I can offer innumerable examples of people NOT being seen. Physicians who aren’t valued for their excellent patient care because they are viewed as less productive than some of their peers. Budding leaders who are passed over because those in leadership positions don’t take the time to notice their skills and desire to contribute. Even our daughter’s basketball coach, who never appreciated which players were best at guarding, dribbling or sinking 3-point shots and let the talents of the girls go unutilized. It’s frustrating to not have people recognize what we have to offer – to not “see” us. It makes us doubt our own value. We wonder if we’re not seen because there’s nothing remarkable to see.
But being seen is just half of the equation. What about the part when we say, “I am here?” The part when we show up authentically and contribute in meaningful ways.
Much has been written about what holds us back from bursting out as the full version of ourselves. We fear we won’t be good enough or won’t be accepted. We secretly believe we’ve managed to fool people by hiding who we are and that, if they discover what’s lurking behind the facade we present to the world, they won’t like or respect us. The truth is, as Dr. Seuss so aptly advised, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
I’ve written before about my beloved cousin, who stayed hidden for decades. Now living as the transgender woman she is, she is a dynamic and positive force in her community, bringing people together to support important causes. While there have been difficulties in her transition, the aliveness with which she now lives is inspiring and she has found acceptance and a sense of purpose that eluded her for many years. Until she decided to allow herself to be known, no one could actually “see” her. The “catch-22” is that, while we desperately want people to see and accept us, when we pretend to be someone we’re not, we never allow that to happen. We distrust any acceptance we receive because we secretly know that it is not our true self who is being accepted.
The new year offers us a natural point in time to consider how we want our life to be different. As we prepare to usher in 2019, what aspect of yourself do you really want people to recognize? How can you let people know what you have to offer? In what way can you “be here” so that others can “see” the real you? Only by showing up as our authentic self can we bring our gifts to the world, connect with others and be accepted. Imagine how exciting 2019 will be if we each commit to living like that.
To be here. And to be seen.