Handling your worst ‘visibility nightmare’


As published in Sybil Magazine, July 2015.

(#7 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What’s your worst ‘visibility nightmare’? Being raked over the coals after giving a presentation at work? Shaking as you stand before a packed auditorium? Freezing on your first live radio interview? Putting yourself out in public can be a tender and fragile act, and research shows that fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death. But what makes the prospect of stumbling in public so frightening?

My biggest nightmare was the fear of being publically attacked. Afraid of ‘slipping up’ and feeling humiliated, I imagined wanting to sink through the ground and disappear. So, as a preventative measure, I did disappear. I continued improving myself to make sure I was ready. And when I did write, I held back my most raw and powerful voice in favor of a writing style that was ‘popular and acceptable’. I stayed safe, but I also held back my gifts, my career, my income and my impact in the world.

And then it happened. One sunny morning I wrote a story about a fugitive peacock that went viral on Facebook. Readers loved the story. They wrote that I had inspired and made their day. They said I was a beautiful writer. But then it came – one highly critical note that took issue with a phrase I used. The reader accused and labeled me and invited me to examine my beliefs and assumptions.

The critic surprised me but I didn’t have the reaction that I thought I might. I asked myself: “Should I respond and explain or defend myself? Should I apologize or ‘process’ the matter with her? None of those responses felt right.   And then I made a choice – I chose to NOT turn her criticism into self-attack.

When someone judges or criticizes what we put out into public it doesn’t mean that we have caused or are responsible for their reaction. It doesn’t mean that we owe them an explanation, retraction or apology. But I do think we owe our critics something – the respect to pause and consider what they have to say. Each of us has blind-spots. So we SHOULD stop and reflect on how they might they have understood our words, how their life experience might have been different, and whether there’s something they might teach us (which may or may not be different from what they set out to teach us). But we’re not obligated to be ‘wrong’.

I’m now grateful to the critic who criticized my sweet peacock story. Because the experience set something free in me – the belief that I have to be perfect in order to show up fully in public.   Speaking your truth publically comes with risks – the risk of angering someone, and the risk someone may criticize and point out your flaws – rightfully or not. But censoring yourself is far more damaging.

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