A little background about my week. Last Monday I participated in a photo shoot for a local special issue magazine dedicated to showcasing women entrepreneurs. Marketing my business in this magazine is a big step. I want to reach more women who want to thrive at work and build a life they also love. To do this, I need to be more visible.
Now, the instructions they gave us to prepare for the photo shoot were precise. You needed to wear something black, red and white and dress the way you want to be seen by your clients. It is an opportunity to showcase my brand to a wider audience of women. Sounds simple and straight forward, right?
Not for this (usually) sensible (currently a) brunette! I panicked and began obsessing about preparing my look. I’ll cop to a healthy dose of vanity, but my grooming rituals are not that complicated. The last time I was professionally photographed was at my wedding. I began pondering options for the right dress, footwear, and makeup for longer than I care to admit. I decided to get someone to do my makeup and get a blowout and hair trim the day of the photo shoot.
These are not bad strategies. In the midst of all of this fashion advice seeking, however, I stopped listening to myself and put more weight on other people’s opinions about my look. I focused more on what I’d look like in the picture rather than on the point of the photo shoot. The result? Self-doubt crept in along with growing concerns whether my look would be “good enough.” Oh, and did I mention I also thought trying out false eyelashes could be a good idea?
So, on the day of the photo shoot, I sat in a makeup chair for 30 minutes. When it was time for the big reveal, I shrieked when I looked at myself in the mirror. Looking at my heavily made up face and superhuman eyelashes I immediately felt regret. I didn’t recognize myself. Where did I go? My instinct was to ask the makeup artist to tone down the makeup. But under the gun I made a choice just to keep asking around the room – “Do I look OK?”
And by the time I showed up in front of the camera, I felt profoundly disconnected. I felt self-conscious and awkward as I shuffled from one pose to another. I brought a couple of dress choices, yet nothing seemed right. It didn’t matter how many people complimented me I couldn’t shake my discomfort. Why did I feel like bursting into tears? I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I left the photo shoot feeling deflated and confused. I sat in my car looking at my reflection in the rear-view mirror. In the bright afternoon sunlight, not smiling back at me in the mirror, I saw a sad, overly made up brunette who lost her way. I yanked off the false eyelashes, took a deep breath and began to retrace my steps. What happened?
Getting to the truth was not a solo journey. Well, it did start with me, and my go-to comfort food – French fries. I then spent the rest of the night in a daze zoned out watching bad TV not able to shake how empty I was feeling. The following morning, I met with some women friends for breakfast and retold my story. After I spat it all out and managed a laugh or two, my head began to clear. One of my friends observed: Isn’t it interesting that your coaching practice is about authenticity and you were struggling so much with how you looked to others? Maybe this is something to write about? Bingo.
The hair and makeup weren’t the real issues. I took an objective look at my photograph, and I can see everything worked well on camera, and even the false lashes did their job. In fact, the photo looks good and reflects my style. I just look like a more polished “me.” The problem was I wasn’t grounded during the experience. I momentarily lost my confidence in my style and voice in the pursuit of the “perfect” look. But, this isn’t about my appearance. The whole room telling me I’m fabulous is meaningless if I don’t feel it, or believe it.
Knowing the reach of the circulation of this magazine triggered a toxic cocktail of insecurity and desire for perfection. This crisis in confidence wasn’t about how I looked physically. It was about becoming more visible and fears that I’m not enough. My business is about authenticity, and here I am running around feeling like an imposter trying to fix how I felt through costume changes. Yes, we teach what we need to learn.
By the time I got home, I was lucid enough to notice in the middle of my dining room table, cluttered with makeup and hair products, a book staring back at me. Believe it or not, it was my copy of Brene Brown’s “I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will People Think’ to ‘ I Am Enough.” “Ok,” I said to myself, “I think I’m getting the message!”.
The truth is I’m on the verge of a growth spurt in my work and life, and I’m terrified. The stakes are getting higher, and I’ve got skin in this game. I can’t deny my business is about who I am and my unique voice. I’m close to finishing writing a book. There is no room to hide. I just got momentarily hooked on an old idea that the quickest way to change how I felt on the inside was by fixing the outside. And it’s a fine line between taking in feedback and being taken over by it.
The punch line here is I forgot I still don’t like feeling vulnerable. Yet growth takes us all out of our comfort zones. Feeling vulnerable just means you are awake and it is really happening. A mentor once shared with me she needs as much support to cope with her successes as she does with her failures. I still need my tribe.
When I’m in my right mind, I like the way I look, and I like my style. I know I have a strong voice, and I stand by my point of view. I just learned one more time that looking good and feeling good can be two different things. And ideally, I want to have both.
But if forced to choose I’ll keep picking being present to myself and having my opinion mattering the most. I know where the power is and forgetting that is also OK. I am not traveling alone, and I always find my way back.
So, next time, you bet I’ll wear makeup, but I might skip the lashes. Or maybe not. Most importantly I’ll pause and give myself time to catch up to who I’ve already become. Visibility isn’t scary as long as I’m more concerned about how I feel on the inside than what I see on the outside. Now, I’m ready for my close up.