It has been an excruciating week for me. Several months ago I stepped away from social media as I was finding it overwhelming. It was making me sad, on occasion angry, often irritable after I had spent time there. I wasn’t feeling inclined to share any of the little life things that were going on with me at that time. I was undergoing counselling, and these much bigger life things felt far more important and, as an introvert, not things I wished to share publicly. So, as part of the process to try and hear my own inner voice better, I decided that for the time being it would be healthier for me not to be drowning in the voices of others, especially if it was clear to me they were doing me harm. That felt like a very constructive decision, and has felt like a weight off ever since.
However, this week I had to return to the world of publicly exposing myself on the internet. As described in my previous post ‘Loose End, Not Dead End’, I am looking for new work at present. Having just finished one piece of work, and now looking for the next, I finally had to relent and create a profile for myself on a professional networking site. All my business acquaintances assured me that this was the way to go. They were in fact incredulous that it had taken me this long to do so. But it is something I have been resisting for years.
There are a number of ways in which I find this whole scenario harrowing:
1) I am generally a pretty modest person, but trying to present yourself as a capable human being with valuable experience who is ideal for that professional role you want to fill is no place for modesty. And, as I do in fact have some valuable experience and am pretty good at that work I do, I have had to say this out loud, to the world at large, without any privacy settings blocking this from people’s view (because what would be the point in hiding this information from prying eyes if it is those very eyes you are hoping will give you a job). I feel like some kind of raging peacock, shaking its tail feathers and saying “Look at me! Look how clever I am!” whilst at the same time a reticent mouse, uncertain that I can possibly have been the person who achieved all of those things I have written down in black and white, ready to run under a cupboard and hide should anyone try and ask me about it. I am, at once, a narcissist and a fraud, or so my ego will have me believe.
2) I am an introvert. Exposing this much of myself publicly is quite simply unnatural for me. My entire being is in agony knowing I am on public display in this way. Looking for and applying for work used to be a private matter, your friends and family would only know as much as you told them about the whole process, and the rest of the world need only find out when your old desk is empty and you are safely sitting in a different building. The downside of this approach is that, to this day, my dad is still unable to describe to another human being what his daughter does for a living, but he then gets to make it up and it sounds much better when he says it anyway.
3) It brings out all of my age-old insecurity and self-consciousness. It is at this point I feel like, over my 40 odd years, I have learned precisely nothing at all, gained not one shred of confidence, built no resilience or mental armour. When I was young I would have believed all of this self-defeating nonsense would be gone by this age, and on most days, in honesty, I do feel a good deal more confident in myself and my abilities than I did say 20 years ago. However, there are just the occasional uncomfortable necessities that bring back all of that paranoia and uncertainty. You become fixated on who has or has not responded to your invitation to join your professional network. Why haven’t they? Have you offended them in some way? Did they really not mean it when they gave you that tremendous feedback about the work you did for them? Or are you, in fact, the charlatan your negative self constantly tells you that you are?
It occurred to me this morning that these feelings may in part relate to the fact that, although everything I have written on my professional profile is true, I am uncomfortable with it not just because I feel completely exposed and the whole thing seems terribly undignified but also because, in my heart of hearts, I know the profile I am presenting is not the person I want to be. I remember years ago, during a team-building from work, a colleague of mine handed me a card with a description on it – which he believed described me to a tee. We had the option of refusing to accept any card we were offered if we didn’t feel it was a good fit. I refused this card from him. My colleague was perplexed. How could I not accept this card when, from his perspective, he saw me exhibiting this particular skill on a daily basis? I had to explain to him, “That is what I do. It is not who I am”.
I feel very much that way about this professional profile of mine. It reflects the work I have done in the past. Work I gave been good at and have been praised for yes, but it says little about me as a person, my aspirations for the future, or whether I was ever comfortable being ‘That person’, ‘That set of skills’, ‘That job title’. It is clear to me, more so now than ever, that I am not comfortable in that role. Not entirely at any rate.
So what do I want to be when I grow up? Long before I ever grew up, from the age of 9 (that I can remember), and probably before that, all I ever wanted to do was write. I am now writing. Look, at me, I’m doing it! And that feels fantastic. Whether I could ever be good enough or lucky enough to get paid for writing? Well that is quite a different question, and it is only a few months since I started sharing anything I wrote publicly.
Then, just this morning it occurred to me, I am currently writing anonymously – apparently not yet ready to say to the world “This is me! This is my name! This is my story!”. That may seem a little cowardly to some, perhaps, but given that a lot of what I knew I was going to share was incredibly personal, and it had already taken me three quarters of my life to share anything at all, I was prepared to be that coward just to get the ball rolling. Did I want to delete my blog after my first few posts went public? Absolutely. Did I squirm with embarrassment when people started reading it? A little, it’s true. What about when people liked something I wrote? Well that felt a bit better, (I wrote something another human being liked! Wow!). And what about when someone commented and said they’d enjoyed what I had written, perhaps were even inspired by it? Well, then I was sold, 100% sold, for there is nothing more inspiring than being able to inspire someone else with your story. The sharing of experiences, in the hope they are of some use to somebody else in the world, is what it is all about.
What I do know for sure is this, I was really very freaked out indeed when I posted one of my blog pieces and it became quite popular and I suddenly went from having 100 to 1000 followers. I wanted to hide under the bed until it was over. But, after a few days, and then reading the incredible comments people left me, I quickly managed to regain my balance and just feel extremely grateful, to the beautiful people out there in the blogosphere who took the time, not only to read, but also to comment on something I wrote (they liked what I wrote! Wow!).
This whole new public exposure on the professional network has freaked me out even more. I hardly got a wink of sleep last night knowing it was out there in the public domain, and that anyone in the world (should they choose) could seek me out and look at me being a rampaging peacock. The little I did sleep was disrupted by dreams of me trying to take a shower with a room full of people looking on, (including my mother and Richard Gere. Not really sure what Richard Gere was meant to represent, but I’ll be giving that some thought for the rest of the day). But I know that my discomfort with this too will pass, once I have sat with it a while and I realise, in the grand scheme of things, nobody will be giving this as much thought as I am. Other people will care very little indeed what I wrote, they are too busy caring about their own lives, and rightly so. People are never as interested in our stuff as we think they are, which to me, as an introvert, is very reassuring indeed.
Anyway, I will close by saying this. I am not ashamed of my writing, I am just finding my feet and my voice and, should the day ever come that I need to say out loud, “I wrote that!”, to my mother, my professional network, or Richard Gere himself, I will do it with pride, because a writer is what I truly want to be when I grow up, whether I get paid for it in money or not, I get paid for it time and time again, when somebody likes what I wrote, and when somebody says it meant something to them they could use. Thank you Xxx
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