To be seen or not to be, that is the question for leaders

© Jenn Shallvey 2015
© Jenn Shallvey 2015

I was sitting at one of my favourite cafes today enjoying a bite and a coffee.  A man walked towards me to sit down. He looked at me directly and I had this flash in my mind that I knew him from somewhere.  I am really good with faces and shocking with names.  So as he joined a young lady two tables down from me I wondered how I knew his face.

I racked my brain and perhaps due to my flirtation these days with total absent mindedness I could not recall. So I did what all intelligent wise women do, I searched the internet. Of course I had no name to enter so I searched for a list of his features. Bingo. The tenth photo was this man.

I was thrilled to alleviate my brain blank moment. I admit to being even more excited when I realised I was sitting two tables away from a member of one of Australia’s most famous bands. Cool. (I will not say who it is because despite my excitement I am not into name dropping ☺)  I am not a groupie nor a fan but like the music hence the delayed recognition (ok really it is my brain).

Noticing without being noticed

I sat there for a minute thinking this is my local hangout and one for many other regulars I see.  Then I noticed that the people between us had no idea of the man’s identity but those on the other side of me did. The ones who did kept looking over, whispering and then commenting about this man.

For a moment internally I thought to myself 'wow'. Then I came back to earth. I thought how cool that I can sit in my local, be relaxed and me and so can he.  I also thought how challenging it must be to go anywhere, just be yourself and not have strangers stop you or talk about you. 

So I stayed cool and started to reflect on what happens when you are a celebrity or public figure and go out and everyone knows you. What do you do? How do you manage that? How do you deal with it if every time you go somewhere people know who you are because of your public profile?

Being noticed on purpose, almost

I also reflected on this idea of celebrity in the wake of watching the whole season, including this week’s finale, of Masterchef Australia.  I am not a regular TV viewer nor fan of reality TV.  I chose to watch this show after a long gap because of the stories unfolding and the individuals pursuing their dreams.   I loved the outcome and appreciated the winner’s grounded, calm, cool, genuine demeanour coupled with a real passion for her food dream.  

The strange thing about such a reality TV show is that these everyday people, who are passionate about cooking and chose to be on a TV show, are suddenly catapulted into a pseudo celebrity status. Each contestant would know this possible outcome.   What I wonder is whether any pursued this avenue for the attention or simply as a step towards a new career direction.  Either way they are now on the radar thanks to the show, public relations, social media and more.

Likewise the same occurs for the chefs.  I am not a foodie. So I don’t follow the names nor restaurants of the chefs featured. There are a couple I know only because I am married to a man who loves cooking and watching cooking shows.  In the culinary world of these chefs they would each have a following and fan base. People would know who they are and likely recognise them out of their element. Not me.

So what?

Well lets move the focus now to leadership.  Being a leader is not too different. You choose to be someone who steps out and leads others through your influence and example.  People pay attention to you.  Take this up a notch if you choose to make yourself known and be present in the world as a public figure.  

Many say leadership is a lonely and under-appreciated role. To be a leader you need resilience and a thick skin as you take others on a journey of change or go in directions that may or may not find favour with others.  Again a choice that inevitably means the leader will be known by many that the leader does not know.

For me it is a little bit different

Despite a passion for the work I do, I have been reticent to step forward to another level. One of the main reasons is I like my anonymity. I value and treasure my privacy.  Despite the blogs and posts that I share I am a very private person.   So what I noticed is that my natural inclination is to not step out like these examples above and lose my privacy.    

I thought what if I was that person sitting at the table with my daughter and everyone recognised me and were staring at me?  Would I want that or not?

Yes, and no.  I am very clear that from an ego perspective I do not need nor want the attention.  I would not want attention for the sake of attention. Perhaps though from my ego perspective I have however let fear drive my desire to hide.   

Yet if being noticed now means someone would be better because of the connection then I am fine.  For example maybe a person would connect to my writing and think to self ‘I like what Jenn writes so I am going to read more’. Then I know that person has a positive connection with me. I would welcome the opportunity.  And surprisingly I am also accepting that not everyone needs to like or gain value from what I offer. It is all about choice, timing and resonance. It is not personal.

Long journey to a place that seems easy

Getting to this place though has not been easy and is really only recent.  In terms of my own personal transformation I would not be able to even consider such exposure earlier.  One because of the attention and two because of the potential of non acceptance or rejection.

For example, about eight years ago I traveled and stayed in Hawaii for a workshop.  I remember sitting on the balcony of my hotel room looking out over the water.  From my spot I could see the other balconies including the outdoor massage tables of the hotel spa.  It dawned on me that if I could see all these balconies then that would mean if someone wanted to they could see me.  But I was not a famous person so no need to worry.  But what if I was famous? Would my private relaxation be interrupted by prying eyes?  Would I not be able to have a normal life?  At the time I could contemplate being a writer but not with my face attached to it for fear of being recognised.

At that time in my life I was not at all sharing what I am now nor writing like I do now. So I absolutely recoiled at the thought of others ‘seeing me’.  I rebelled against the thought and retreated even more.  In response to my fear of being known or seen I went into hiding.  Actually I realise in hindsight that I was in hiding much longer.  One of my mentors calls this choice ‘being hidden in plain sight’. So for a long time I have done what I needed to do for my work but held back and avoided actively letting others know I am here.

Changing from the inside

Fast forward to now from even as recent as last year. Lately I noticed that I finally hit this place within me where I no longer care whether someone notices or ‘sees’ me.  So what this tells me is that internally I shifted tremendously. Still new, but something I am excited about.  What I did to get to this place was all about changing me from the inside out. Rather than try to be someone I am not I found more of me that I accept and like.  In a way I developed a relationship with me and expanded more into the real me.  Yes sounds a bit wishy washy but it is the best way I can explain what is a very intangible sometimes unconscious process.  In the end what makes it work though is being more conscious about being me.

I am now consciously stepping forward to be seen in plain sight.  

I wanted to share this personal experience inspired by my almost encounter with a celebrity today.  Why? Maybe you too are a leader that hides in plain sight.  Maybe you are a leader who wants to create positive change in your world but reserve yourself because you do not want to be seen or in the public eye.

I am here to remind you that it takes time and that you will shift when you are ready.  When you can feel this internal shift you will know you are ready.

I am ready now to be seen.  Are you?