When Feeling Seen Doesn't Translate to Being Liked


My mom is moving out of my childhood home this month, which is odd, disorienting, and a bit emotional. I’ve been helping her go through the many journals, books, and photos that were left behind when I moved for college. Peeking into these portals to my past self remind me of times when the pages of a notebook were my only solace; the only place where I could express myself or really, be myself. Being a writer is an introspective identity. To be seen, what I write has to be read. Reading through fragmented memories and pieces of stories that I vaguely remember, reminded me how little I was actually seen growing up.

If they really see me, will they like what they see?

My friend is an intuitive, and as I’ve forged a public speaking career and put myself in front of audiences for the first time in the past few months, she has reminded me that my task in this life is to be okay with feeling seen. Here’s the dichotomy, the tug of war: we all want to feel seen, validated, and heard by others. We want to matter. We want to mean something. We want what we’re doing to make an impression, and if we’re hurting, we want to be understood. And yet, those who are the most ‘seen’ are also the most on display, which is terrifying. In my speech, I share the story of my first failed startup. I share the beliefs that guide my life. For 45 minutes, I present myself as transparently and vulnerably as possible onstage in front of strangers - and to feel this seen, at times, feels like I’m naked. And it scares me.

At one talk in particular, I felt called to show more of my personality than I typically do. The talk was in front of 300 high school girls at Harvard, and it was about personal branding - so if there was ever a time to show my whole personality, this was it. The audience LOVED it. The girls were laughing, nodding, taking ferocious note, and snapping the occasional picture. But, there was one man in the audience - the father of a high school girl sitting next to him - who stared at me with disdain the entire talk. At first, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. But, after fifteen more minutes without any change in demeanor, I realized I was experiencing the full extent of feeling seen. I was facing my fear. I could choose to let the one person in the audience who saw me and didn’t like what he saw to forever tarnish the memory, or I could focus on the sea of girls who were loving the talk. It was a powerful learning experience, and I chose to make the best of it.

We all have stories to tell and offer to give to the world, and the more that I’ve recognized my own fear of being seen, the more I’ve recognized it in others. We are all struggling between the desire to be seen and the fear that if they see us, they won’t like what they see. So, with the desire to feel seen should also come the knowledge that we don’t have to feel liked to feel validated; because if we validate ourselves fully and focus on our impact, we can show all of ourselves to others without the fear of their judgement.

To practice feeling seen:

  1. Use your social platforms. It’s far easier to share a story, insight, or tidbit of wisdom if you feel that you can control the message, even if you’re editing and rewriting your post ten times!

  2. Own your self worth. A part of being seen is being seen for ALL of who you are. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to ‘brag’ and share your accomplishments with the world, but it helps other see you for who you are, fully.

  3. Stand up for yourself when you don’t feel seen. Whether it’s at work, in your relationship, or in any other area of your life, there are inevitable times when we don’t feel validated. At this talk, I actually used the man’s negative demeanor as fuel for an ending anecdote that I hadn’t planned at all, in which I talked about how scary it is to put yourself out there. It was my version of standing up for myself. The overarching message was the encouragement to go for it and to express yourself as you are, 100%. The audience shared that it made the talk all the more inspiring.

  4. Take it slowly. If you too have the desire to be seen by the masses, take it slow. It’s easier to start in front of an audience of 12 than an audience of 200.

  5. Practice seeing yourself. I believe the world and our experience in the world is a mirror for how we treat and see ourselves. So, embrace the parts of yourself that you typically want to keep hidden. Get real about what’s bothering you, and be honest about what you want from life. Practice validating yourself daily. You deserve to be seen!

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