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  • Sara Johnson

On Being Seen: Confessions of a Middle School Spotlight Operator

I have a confession to make: even though I’ve had nearly four decades of practice on this earth, I find it incredibly difficult to put myself out there.

Right now in my coaching practice I am really, really putting myself out there. I’m telling people - everyone - that I am taking on new clients this year. I am teaching myself Canva in order to translate my writing into digestible social media posts. I’m sharing frequently on Instagram. I even made a reel! I’m telling my network what I am doing by talking about my business on - you won’t believe this - LinkedIn. 😂

It must be why I’m crawling out of my skin a bit - all of this exposure, all of this vulnerability, all of this showing up as myself and saying: “Look at me! Look at what I am trying to build here! Will you help me? Will you be a part of this?”

Oof, it was hard and a little cringe-inducing to even write that.

My whole life I have been exceptionally good at putting the focus anywhere other than on myself. So this feels pretty far out of my comfort zone.

I’ve often joked that there’s a reason I was on the tech crew in middle school and was the spotlight operator: it is much more natural for me to shine the light on others. (As an aside, a shortie with limited arm strength does not make the best spotlight operator. She will struggle for the entire production of Bye Bye Birdie to get the light shining on the right bit of action. The circle of light will bounce along the stage just a few inches off where it’s meant to be, hurrying, hurrying, hurrying to catch up. But I digress.)

I love the part of coaching work that supports clients in learning how to prioritize their own needs and desires. I often say to clients: “What would it take to center yourself right now?” Typically we have to unpack all the negative, societal beliefs around the phrase “self-centered.” It is necessary to reframe to “centering the self." It is necessary to highlight the ways centering the self can be radical and self-loving! I find it phenomenal when a client pushes at or past the edges of their comfort as they begin to center themselves in their lives and the coaching work.

But I confess: the very thing I celebrate and encourage in my clients is something that I am in a constant loop of learning - unlearning - relearning for myself. At times I feel like a fledgling bird clinging to my safe nest of invisibility, quiet, and not rocking the boat. Other times I fly without fear, energized by the creative process, energized in fact by the very same things that can have me shaking with apprehension. It can be fun to be a little louder and disturb the safe bubble of what I know! But most often I’m in the comfortable middle place: past being a beginner at centering the self yet far from being an expert. Gripped by the thrill and terror of being seen.

Some of what trips me up and makes me worry about putting myself out there is that I’m afraid of the repercussions. A scared little voice in my head tells me I will cross the line from sharing as a means of connecting to sharing in a self-absorbed, out-of-touch way.

When I put myself out there, the worry of what other people will think mingles with perfectionism. What if I fail spectacularly? What if I seem like a phony? What if I’m awkward and uncool? What if there’s a right way and I do it the wrong way? Perhaps it’s easier to stay quiet, hidden, and unexpressed. “Shine the spotlight elsewhere,” the voices say, “anywhere but right here.”

This year I am trying to make space for another voice. I am encouraging myself to emphasize practice over perfection. I know that every time I write something, make it pretty in Canva, and click publish on Instagram, I am tapping into this practice. Every time I hit send - joyously or fearfully (or both) - on this newsletter, I am practicing.

I practice to grow my confidence and comfort being my weird, unique, imperfect, growing self. Perhaps by continuing to put myself out there imperfectly, despite my hesitation, I can be a part of normalizing the tenderness of being seen. Maybe, by being honest about my difficulty being so seen, I can create more ease for others struggling to center themselves in the coaching space or elsewhere.

In the first session with a new client I typically say something along the lines of: You’re not here to look good (perform) and I’m not here to be perfect. When we commit to being our real, authentic selves together, powerful coaching will happen.

I’m letting those words sink in. I'm choosing practice over perfection. I'm allowing myself to step out and be seen in my wholeness. I’m learning how to save a bit of my light for myself. I trust and believe there’s something for me in this light, something I’d like to discover while I can. Even if I feel afraid.

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