In 2011, I signed up to attend a 5-day professional training called "Coaching Happiness" with Dr. Robert Holden. I arrived in New York City in November, a year after my father and younger sister had died. A year of grieving that had left me emotionally spent. It was time for some happiness in my life after so much sadness. I was excited about the workshop but nervous too. I had been reading Robert's book, Be Happy and knew right away that his message was for me. My husband had bugged me to sign up for the workshop. "It's gonna sell out." They were only taking 100 people. So instead of procrastinating like I usually do, I went onto Hay House and booked it.
The workshop was held in a hotel in Times Square, not exactly my normal hang out when in New York. But I was reminded of something my friend Jeff had said to me a year or two earlier. His office is in Times Square. When I asked him how he coped with all the annoying tourists he smiled. "I like it actually, it's invigorating. Sometimes I just come out and walk around, breathe it all in."
Okay, I thought, I will try to channel my inner enthusiast instead of donning my grouchy New Yorker face. Almost immediately, I made friends. The seminar had a relaxed and festive atmosphere and the audience, 90% women, were clearly excited to be there. One of the activities we did as a group, one we did every day was a greeting. It's of African (Bantu) origin and the concept is that we bring each other into existence by seeing one another. Two people participate by holding hands, facing each other, and looking into one another's eyes. One person starts by saying, "I am here to be seen." The person listening then responds, "I see you."
So we began. I was initially nervous and tended to allow my partner to go first, taking the lead. It was easy for me to see my partner and hold a space of patience and loving kindness but it was harder for me to utter the words, "I am here to be seen." Sometimes they felt like they got caught in my throat and my eyes all almost got watery. Nevertheless, I participated, repeating the exercise 5-6 times every morning with different partners.
By the fourth day, heading into the seminar, I was feeling tired and emotionally raw. Sitting on the bus watching the gray streets go by, my mind was already anticipating the upcoming seminar. "I don't want to do that exercise this morning," I heard my inner brat whining, "I don't want to be 'seen' today. I just want to be left alone."
Then my wise self, observing the mental commotion reflected, "isn't that interesting, what you said, you don't want to be seen." Well, that started a whole internal dialog and a realization of how I have spent a good part of my life hiding in the wings, afraid to go on stage and "be seen."
At the workshop, I participated in the morning greeting (I am here to be seen) after which we were asked to make groups of 4 and share how we were feeling and what we were experiencing. I decided to out myself. So I told everyone in my group the story of my ride into the seminar. My self disclosure seemed to surprise some of the listeners (maybe because I had acted my part so well) but everyone was loving and supportive. It was a cathartic moment for me, to realize consciously that I have been hiding.
I decided it was time to come out. Not just to that group at the workshop but in my life.
This week Brene Brown tweeted, "So excited to finally launch The Daring Way™ - it's all about showing up, being seen, and living brave! And that got me thinking again about being seen. I'd been reading her book, Daring Greatly, in which she says "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."
In September I launched my own coaching and therapy business, Decide Differently. I watched how the fear arose as I transitioned from being an educator, which I had been for over two decades, to a new field, where I felt like a fledgling. The mind chatter of "who are you to tell people what to do" and "why would anyone listen to what you have to say?" haunted me but I did it anyway and am even outing myself more with this blog!
Because the truth is that I have a lot to say and to share, we all do. I agree with Brene. When we "out ourselves" when we allow ourselves to be seen, when we invite ourselves to show vulnerability, we are alive. We are pushing beyond the comfort, beyond the known, we are allowing people to see all of us, the parts we like and the parts we like not so much. And this, too, also comes back to the happiness course I did two years ago. As Robert says, "Happiness is when we dare show people our original face."
Even though sometimes I don’t want to be seen and I still want to hide, I am recognizing it more and more and working with myself lovingly, gently, and encouragingly, just exactly as I would a small child in one of my classrooms. "You can do this, there's nothing to be scared of. We are all here to support and love you." And what I realize is the power that being seen has. It gives us the gift of feeling alive and connected, experiencing the love and joy that are all around us and within us.
So thank you Robert and thank you to all of the brave men and women who shared that 5-day coaching happiness workshop with me. I am a different person because of all of you and I know you see me.