As long as I can remember, I’ve avoided stepping into the light for fear of being found wanting. I’m a behind the scenes, work in the shadows kind of person. I’m a creative person however, so when I feel the desire to create or make something, I’ve usually used a pseudonym.
My first YouTube channel, which I created maybe a year or two after YouTube began, was launched under a pseudonym. I have several blogs scattered around the Internet written under pseudonyms. Most of the books I publish on Amazon are under pseudonyms. There’s comfort and safety in being anonymous.
But it’s also very solitary work because it’s impossible to connect with others and build meaningful online relationships when you are literally not yourself.
After three years of procrastinating the completion of my photography book which I intended to publish under my own name, I began to investigate that fear. Why was publishing under a pseudonym so much easier than using my own name?
A pseudonym gave me a way for me to put things out into the world that I knew were not perfect. But at least they would be out in the world! I understood there was value in the act of creating, of practicing, of completing something, of trying and of failing, because I could learn from my efforts and do better the next time. Failing to try means stagnation.
When my name was attached to work, I became obsessive in my desire to make something the very best it could be, as though my entire self-worth hinged on how close to perfection something was. This kept me toiling away far beyond the point of diminishing returns. This attitude got me into Harvard and into some great jobs, but as a modus operand it’s terrible for mental health.
When the Student is Ready, the Teachers Appear
Fortunately, around this time I started trying to understand my children’s baffling (to me) anxiety, and lo and behold I realized that I suffered from it too! And I found wonderful teachers, like Brene Brown, Anne Lamott, Lisa Olivera, Tara Brach, Fred Rogers and others, who helped me come into a better relationship with myself, to see a new way to be in the world.
They all teach variations on the idea that harmful, negative lessons absorbed in childhood about one’s worthiness and the legitimacy of one’s needs are not immutable facts! They are false messages, transmitted by those who were carrying their own wounds and wrestling with their own demons.
More importantly, those lessons and messages can be unlearned over time if you begin to question them – and continue to question them – with curiosity and compassion.
And being vulnerable, being willing to show up authentically and be seen, flaws and imperfections and all, is necessary to truly connect with others. Otherwise it’s all artifice, just a house of cards.
Stepping into the Light in 2021
My 2021 word of the year is visibility. I’m going to be stepping into the light. I’m going to just show up — not with any cymbals or fanfare, but not with a facade either. I’m going to learn, create, and share in public. I’m going to launch, succeed, and fail in public. It has to be in public because that’s how you create a feedback loop for yourself, it’s how you get information about what you really love to do or what you are good at or what improvements to make or what to leave to others.
What does this mean in a practical sense? At this point, these are some of my aspirations:
- Blog more often and more authentically.
- Revise and republish under my own name some of the books I wrote under pseudonyms
- Create classes that shine a light on 1. the joy of creativity, 2. improving well being, and/or 3. being mindfully productive.
- Learn no-code skills and create apps that are both useful and beautiful.
- Make my peace with social media and find platforms that are net benefits (read why I quit Facebook here).
I’m pretty pleased with how things are going so far in 2021. In January, I launched a twice monthly newsletter, “A Gossamer Thread“. I have just under 200 subscribers right now.
In February and March I’m beta testing my photography course, “Take Better Pictures Now”. I’m also building a landing page and sales funnel for it to start presales in March.
I also launched a 28 Day Blogging Challenge that ends March 16, and I’m hosting a photography workshop at NessLabs, a truly wonderful and supportive online community that has been instrumental to my growth and willingness to step into the light and be seen.
And I’ve got a long list of possible projects for the rest of the year that I’m genuinely excited about! An inability to come up with ideas has never been my weakness.
To help keep me on track, I’ve joined LaunchMBA, an educational platform where creators connect and support each other and keep each other accountable in launching one idea a month for a year.
I will admit, stepping into the light isn’t easy for me. There is safety in the shadows. When I uploaded that first video to YouTube nearly a decade ago, the first comment I got was, “You are so ugly, you look like a man”. Reading that was not my favorite thing, and I know it will likely happen again. But my drive to create a feedback loop for myself, to have a chance to learn and grow and improve, is greater than my fear.
Can you relate? Or do you have any thoughts or advice? I’d love to hear from you — you can contact me here.
Photo Credit: Elvish Yadav
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