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Facing the fear of being seen

The thing about fear is it rises up in your throat until you’re choking on it and you think you might be about to puke. Suddenly your hand isn’t your own anymore as you feel your way into the words, taste them on the tip of your tongue, and then can’t quite bring yourself to put them down on the page.

Fear is the nagging voice in the back of your head that says you can’t say that and warns that they might not like you if they really know who you are. And because you got used to hiding at an early age, you think it’s safest if no one ever knows the real you.

After all, even you aren’t sure about that person you fear you might be.

The thing about fear is that it’s staying home when you want to go out and not offering help when you see someone who is lost on a street you know like the lines on the palm of your own hand and you’re tempted to say hey, where are you trying to go and maybe I could help?

But you don’t because that’s not the sort of thing that people do and no one asked you and everything feels easier if you turn aside and look away and above all you don’t make eye contact.

Because if you meet their eyes they’ll speak up after all and say hey, I’m looking for this place

And even though that’s exactly what you wanted to offer a moment ago, now you’re choking on the thought of how you’re in a rush and it’s so inconvenient to stop and you don’t know the area as well as you thought and you wouldn’t be of any help anyways.

And this is why you mustn’t make eye contact.

Dodging gazes — it’s been the way you’ve lived your life since you were small and you learned that teachers wouldn’t call on you in class if you didn’t make eye contact. You learned that you wouldn’t have to raise your trembling voice and worry what the other kids would think. That maybe you were showing off because you always knew the answers. Even though you weren’t and you didn’t want them to think that. (School was always easy for you — but people not so much and this is where you stopped make eye contact.)

But the thing about the fear is that you’ve finally come head-to-heart with the fact that fear is the only thing that’s still holding you back.

That it’s the lump in your throat that’s growing like a cancer until it eats at your voice, until time after time at the very last moment you’re forever turning your head aside and averting your eyes because this is what you do:

You never, ever make eye contact.

And what you’ve only just begun to realize is that eye contact is the beginning of everything — a solitary moment that says I’m here and I see you and look, you see me!

And that for just an instant we see eye to eye, two as one, separate and together — and together has always been larger than I.

Which is how I know that, no matter how frightened I am, it’s time to start making eye contact again.

It’s finally time to be seen.


What fears are holding you back?

It’s a question I’ve been bumping up against all over the place lately as I struggle to find a way to grow as both a writer and as a promoter of my writing. Because as much as we like to pretend it’s a dirty word, writing without some self-promotion is an awful lot like shouting into the void.

And the truth I keep running up against is that I’ve built my life around a pattern of hiding. It’s a pattern that began in school when I was the smart kid, the one who always had the right answers but didn’t have the right friends, the one who always stuck out in the crowd. The older I got the more different I felt and the more isolating it became. 

As a defensive maneuver, I retreated into myself and in doing so I initiated a pattern of hiding. Of hiding me, not from myself, but from everyone else.

It’s a pattern that still haunts me today, even as I’m struggling to be a writer and it’s a pattern that I now recognize is holding me back.

Which is why I’d like to ask:

What patterns or fears might be holding you back from achieving your dreams?


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