One of the Most Transformational Skills – are you in?
When I was 17 years old, I was a senior in high school and Student Council President. One day I was rushing to class when the school counselor plucked me out of the hallway and said, “Hey Katherine, come in my office for a minute, I want to talk to you about something.”
I sat down across from him. I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble or what was going on. His eyes were soft, his gaze was serious as he spoke. “I see you working so hard on behalf of everyone…I hear your laugh in the hallway…but I wonder…. Are you okay?”
I froze. I didn’t say a word. I literally couldn’t speak. But the tears spilled out. They rolled down my cheeks and I couldn’t stop them.
Looking back, if my tears could have talked, they would have said I’m alone, I’m unhappy and I’m so tired of pretending everything is okay.
I’ll never forget that moment – it was 30 years ago almost to the day. I felt exposed – it was scary. But after a few minutes and a good cry, I felt seen. Even though I couldn’t find words for what I was feeling, it sparked a curiosity to learn how.
After college, I joined a nonprofit group that specialized in helping young people express what it’s like to be in their shoes. I felt like I hit Nirvana! I was giving young people the space that my high school counselor gave me and I was developing intricate skills to help others put feelings into words.
Since then, I’ve pushed myself to find words for all those hard-to-describe feelings.
Okay so…What does it take to let yourself be seen?
You gotta GO BEYOND...
Go beyond the mask you wear.
Stop hiding. Share the hard stuff. If you don’t have a little adrenaline pumping through your system, then you’re playing it too safe. When you show that you’re taking some risks, that everything’s not coming easy, you bring others closer to you. Connection doesn’t come from saying it’s all wonderful, all the time. It comes from acknowledging flaws, feelings, truths. It comes from the messiness of life.
Go beyond the normal starting point.
Your story doesn’t start when you went to college, went abroad or started your job. Go beyond and look deeper into your life story, your upbringing, your childhood. See the role you played in your family. What was your biggest struggle? What was your proudest moment? Who really saw you? Start with the story before the story, get it?
Go beyond the minutiae of your job.
I don’t want to hear what you actually do. I want to hear why you do it. What you love about it. Or want to love about it. Too many details about the job or the organization make me tune out. But if you start talking about what you care about and the impact you want to make in the world, I start to see your value system and now I’m feeling closer to you.
Go beyond the old voices.
I overheard a woman on the sidewalk say to a friend, “I’m so tired of feeling like something is wrong with me.” I wanted to reach out and say, “Oh I used to feel that way, too!” Just because you think it, it doesn’t make it true. Which means you can decide not to think those thoughts, hear those voices and live those old stories anytime you want! Fred Rogers said there is nothing exceptional you need to do for someone to love you. (In other words, there’s nothing wrong with you, honey.) Tell those mean voices inside to bug off.
And lastly, remember: No one can read your mind. Your boss doesn’t know what kind of validation you need, your partner needs you to ask for what you need (in a nice way😘), your friend, parents and colleagues can only see the person you reveal. It’s on you, my friend, to communicate who you are. To let yourself be seen.
And you don’t have to do it alone. I’ve spent my career learning the skills that you can learn, too. We’ll investigate your story. Mine for the moments that matter – both magnificent and ordinary. And the people who helped you get there. You’ll tune into your values in a way that brings your life in full focus for yourself and for others to understand YOU.
Finding ways for others to see us -- and love us (hire us, follow us, want to do business with us) -- is for the brave at heart. Are you in?
PS. Happy is the one who finds wisdom, right? One way to gain wisdom – and presence, skills, influence – is from examining your life story. I’ve developed a workshop that helps you learn how to talk more comfortably about your Life Stories and who you are. Land the job, get the date, inspire your team…. learn these skills in a safe and fun environment. I also, of course, do 1:1 coaching.