Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.
I’ve been battling with a lot of seemingly unrelated issues lately. On the one hand, there’s my deep-rooted procrastination about my MA thesis. My favorite means of procrastination has been hanging out on message boards, reading more than contributing. And then there’s my Shiva Nata in Finland project that’s been hovering at the edge of my active attention for a while now.
All of these issues share an element of being seen and watched. There’s the online presence I’m creating while participating in the message board culture, and a big part of that is noticing how others see me. I feel the need to contribute, either by asking questions or sharing knowledge, rather than just to agree with others using silly smileys. I need to feel Useful.
The Shiva Nata in Finland project is currently me trying to figure out a context in which I could teach Shiva Nata in Helsinki. To my knowledge, there aren’t that many Shivanauts in Finland. This means that I need to find enough people who are willing to give it a go and a venue to teach in – not to mention figure out a feasible mode of teaching. This would mean telling people that I’ve got this great thing and how would you like to be a part of it. Scary stuff.
The latest addition to this whole Vortex of the Terror of Being Seen came today, when I finally cracked open my thesis files again. My seminar paper is due in two weeks, and the next step towards that goal is to transcribe a section of my data – a videotape of me teaching a lesson.
“Dude. Seriously. Lame.”
The realization of the Vortex actually came a few days ago. I was trying to figure out why I suddenly felt the urge to purchase something that I don’t really need but that’s a Limited Edition Item that Everyone Is Bound to Want. I dug around the problem by journaling, and discovered a deep-rooted belief that I have:
“Unless I’m interesting or useful, I’m an embarrassing nuisance.”
Hmm. That’s interesting.
By having an interesting Limited Edition item, I myself would become interesting by association. With Shiva Nata, I would have to convince others that the practice is both interesting and useful, and so I would become interesting and useful by association.
The worst case scenario with either of these would be for me to show up and get greeted by evasive looks and an embarrassed “This was what you had for us? …Umm, it’s not even close to what we were hoping for. Maybe it’s best if you just go home.” My worst social nightmare is to be perceived as an embarrassing wannabe hangaround that no-one has the heart to get rid of.
Which brings us to an interesting point about my thesis procrastination.
My data, as I’ve already mentioned, consists mainly of a videotaped lesson where I navigate a group of teenagers through a drama process. The teenagers were new to the genre, and since teenagers are the undisputed kings and queens of the eye roll when they’re not one hundred per cent sure about a situation, there was much eye rolling to be had. It’s an understandable defense mechanism, and since the teenagers did participate and put in an effort, it didn’t damage the process too heavily. It was caught on tape, though.
And as I watch the tape, all of the embarrassed glances seem to be aimed straight at me, like daggers.
My brain knows that the thing I perceive as embarrassment is strictly, purely and only a characteristic of the participants who are feeling unsure of their footing. After all, there’s a new type of activity with a not-yet-familiar teacher, outsider spectators and video cameras. I mean, I’d be pretty insecure, too.
The part of me that holds on to the belief of me being first and foremost a nuisance, though, is going bonkers with this huge pile of evidence. “See? See?! I’m right! I’m one hundred per cent right and there’s a video to prove it! Ha! I knew it!” There’s a little goblin with a pitchfork tail running around, waving its hands, and bouncing around. Kind of hard to ignore.
A short recap. In order to work on my thesis, I have to transcribe 75 minutes of what is effectively a live enactment of my worst social nightmare.
Geez, wonder why I’m procrastinating? 🙂
The dilemma of being seen
What’s difficult about this fear of being seen is its twin, the desperate need to be seen. Eye contact alone is hugely important in relationships. When raising children, the best thing you can do is give them your uninterrupted attention, complete with eye contact, several times a day.
When I was starting out as a kids’ group counselor as a teenager, our course leader advised us to seek eye contact during roll call. Whenever we’d say someone’s name and they’d answer, we were to really notice the answer and the person by maintaining eye contact for a few seconds before moving on. I’ve been on the receiving end of this policy and it makes a world of difference.
Being seen, being watched, is a vulnerable state, though. Maintaining eye contact can be a high status marker, and high status is linked to power. When you’re being watched, someone is using power over you. That’s why it’s so difficult to go on stage thinking that there will be an audience. Waiting for an audience reaction is like standing against a wall blindfolded and trying to guess whether the guns shoot bullets or “Bang!” flags.
One useful solution to this problem is to put on a different role. Actors do this as a part of their profession, but other performing jobs do require some kind of role protection. There is the role protection of the uniform – a police officer in uniform is first and foremost a police officer, not Jake, except among his peers. The same goes for clergy members, store clerks, and other professions where you represent your position, not your personality.
Teachers don’t have uniforms, at least not in the Finnish educational system. The role protection must be an inch deeper, in the behavior of the teacher. I’ve been very happy with the way I’ve grafted my Teacher Me, a character who can maintain discipline and create a warm ambiance in the classroom, who is reliable and inspiring. And, most importantly, who deflects all kinds of status threats effortlessly.
The problem with the thesis data, however, is that it’s not my Teacher Me doing the transcription. It’s Student Me, and she’s completely unprotected from the eye-rolling power of the teenagers. She does not have the shield of experience on her side like Teacher Me has, and the “You’re a nuisance!” goblin has a clear shot whenever it pleases.
This is what I fear with the social circle around the Limited Edition and the Shiva Nata in Finland project. If they see me the wrong way, they’ll want nothing to do with me. If I just show up, plain old Me, no interesting gadgetry or sacrificial usefulness, they’ll see I’m an embarrassing nuisance.
And if I feel I’m seen the wrong way, I feel the need to quickly create a barrier against the Nuisance Goblin. When I do that, I lose contact with myself, and with that I lose any potential of creating actual human contacts.
I wish there was an elegant, sophisticated solution to this problem, other than Shiva Nata and journaling, followed by Shiva Nata and some more journaling. But at least now the Nuisance Goblin has been brought to my attention, and I can start negotiations so as to not have it running around in my head anymore. This has also been an exercise in letting myself be seen, warts and all.
Thank you for stopping by, and for lending your proverbial ear and eye. If any of this sparks any ideas, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Until next time – keep catching your own insightings!