Are you Afraid of Being Seen?
The first time I posted one of my 52 Week Turnaround articles on Facebook my hand trembled the whole time. Because my personal Facebook page was connected to people I had known for years. I had visions of people stumbling across posts, complete with scathing comments. (Not to mention the endless funky spam comments — What is it with sex companies trying to hide posts with headers about hockey jerseys? ) Most especially I imagined my ex-husband, ex-boyfriends, high school friends, and college acquaintances, all doubling over in laughter as they read. And not in a good way.
A few of whom are probably shaking their heads as they read this going “Seriously? Jeanne’s afraid of nothing, except slugs, so what the hell is she talking about?” Because many of them know me as being pretty fearless. I was an AIDS activist in the early 90’s (yes, the kind that gets arrested and gets spit on by bigots at demonstrations), worked in a famously dangerous public housing authority (where shootings were common and my car was rocked the first time I drove into one of the projects), and had my life and the lives of my team threatened by a mentally unstable client on the same job. I fought the foster care system to protect foster children. I’ve held people while they were dying horrible deaths from AIDS and moved drugs from the dead to the living. I’ve faced large, furious public audiences who hated the company or agency I was representing, negotiated with picketers and delivered a lot of bad news to people who weren’t too happy to hear it. I’ve been on TV and radio dozens of times, sometimes on pleasant topics but also representing companies on unpleasant subjects and in difficult situations. A running joke at a company I worked at many years ago was that “There’s only one person with any balls around here and it’s Jeanne.”
Why was this different? All of that bravery was done for someone else’s plan or cause. I delivered an employer’s message (under some pretty rocky circumstances, but still, not Jeanne’s message). I fought for friends and a child who had AIDS (Shirley MacClaine’s “Give my daughter the shot!!!” pales compared to me in a medical standoff) but I wasn’t ill. I executed someone else’s organizational change plan.
But what happens when you put YOU out there, your baby, your business, your dream? There are times when it is easier for me to fight for someone else’s cause than to fight for my own. So I worry. Here’s a sampling of this past month’s worries:
- If I comment on the divide between men and women in technology and business will I not be able to get hired anywhere ever again, be branded an “agitator”?
- Is my thinking too superficial? Will the smart people I went to school with be like, “Dear God, how the hell did they ever let Jeanne into college? Clearly it was a clerical error.”
- How many frigging typos, run on sentences, and/or passive voice sentences did I leave in that article I posted at five this morning before running off to a meeting? (A lot, I guarantee it).
- What if my book that is coming out gets really sucky reviews? Should I publish under a pseudonym?
- Are there slugs in Belgium and what are the odds of one of them sliming its way across the podium while I’m presenting? (They didn’t, but I did consider the possibility).
Sometimes, as loud as we may appear, we are still trying to remain invisible. Suzanne Evans, a business coach who specializes in being loud, proud and outspoken talks about “Stepping into Discomfort”, taking risks and being “visible” in her book, The Way you Do Anything is the Way you Do Everything. And when Suzanne talks about being visible, she means warts and all, not a safe “First to volunteer to lead the United Way committee” or post “bland inoffensive business articles on LinkedIn” sort of way.
I particularly loved her quote, “Learn fast that taking up less space and surrounding yourself with people who want to go unnoticed, and stay under the radar won’t get you more business, better clients, or cutting edge marketing ideas. Success takes up space.”
We all know someone at work who’s primary career skill is keeping their head down, making sure to dodge into a safe hole when the lawnmower comes overhead. And it may even work for them. But at some point, it’s a pretty hollow victory. I’ve taken my chances on being memorable. And so far, it has worked, creating new opportunities, new connections and new experiences.
So here I am. Visible. Taking up space. Saying what I think, sharing what I know, both good and bad. And YOU need to put yourself out there as well. You didn’t get this far without learning a few things. If nothing else, I know to never follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady. And that’s something everyone needs to know.
And yes, I’m posting this on Facebook.
Update in 2020. I still have random worries every time I post, including whether I’m aging myself by doublespacing after periods, or if I sound like a crotchety old person saying…”that won’t work and get off my lawn!”. But I keep going… and landed a TED talk. Keep going, it’s the only way.
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