“Because when some people are invisible, everyone suffers.” – Gloria Steinem
months ago, I was standing in my local fabric store, looking at miles and miles
of fasteners, knowing I was far out of my creative depth. (To call my sewing
skills “adequate” would be charitable, if I’m being honest.)
As I stood considering, a lady browsing nearby flagged down a store employee and requested help to find a specific item. The employee slowed just slightly and gestured vaguely toward where I stood, saying, “Oh, there’s probably something down there” before continuing past the woman.
I was dismayed. This lady, clearly into her late 80’s and walking with a cane, was not able to hunker down as I was currently doing, pulling items off the bottom few rows to examine their descriptions and potential uses. So, for the next 15 minutes, I abandoned my project and instead hunted through the fasteners with her until we found one that we agreed would suit her purpose best.
She thanked me as we parted, and then said, “Everyone is always in such a hurry. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to notice me.”
This closely echoed a sentiment I had heard recently from a friend. “Aging is strange. It’s like you become invisible- people just don’t notice you anymore.” So now that thought’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Do we disappear from society’s eyes as we age?
If this idea is true, I don’t much care for it. It’s an unpleasant thought that the world loses sight of people who have so much to offer, and that we fail to see the value of their experience and wisdom.
Interesting, too, is that although “becoming invisible” seems to be a subject often associated with aging, it’s certainly not limited to an older population. I’ve spoken with people of all ages who feel invisible at work, at home, in marriages, and within their peer groups.
This “invisibility effect” has serious and far-reaching consequences. When someone says that they “feel invisible”, the subtext is that they are missing the human connection; they are feeling unacknowledged, devalued and lonely. A person who is lonely and isolated is at risk for a number of ill effects: physical, as well as mental and emotional. (Want to read some research on the effects of loneliness? Check out this article by the American Psychological Association.)
But how does anyone become invisible in their own life?
I think this process can occur as we attend to our various responsibilities and forget to attend to our own hearts and minds. It’s fine to put other’s needs before your own, but if you do it as a matter of course, you risk losing the ability to recognize your own needs and desires apart from the work you’re doing. If you become invisible to yourself, how on earth can you expect others to see you?
There are two things to remember here: first, it’s very difficult for others to recognize your value when you don’t see it yourself. Second, and just as important to remember, is that there will always be people who refuse to see it.
Here’s the good news: You cannot be made to feel irrelevant if you already know that you are not.
We are the agents of change in our own lives. So, if (when) I am feeling unacknowledged or like I’m disappearing, I give myself this pep talk:
Advocate for yourself. It’s very easy to see when someone else is being treated unfairly and speak up for them. It’s much harder to do for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice person, but if you want to be seen, you must also be heard. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re feeling dismissed or unseen. This is true no matter your age or where you are; at home or work, in a collaborative group, or in a store. Advocate!
Don’t lose your sense of adventure. Have you ever heard the idea that if a shark stops swimming, it will die? The same is true of people. We should never stop learning or growing; it’s what fills our world with color and helps to make us vibrant and fulfilled.
Within reason, remove the phrase “I couldn’t possibly…” from your vocabulary. Of course you can paint, learn to play an instrument or speak a new language, or write a blog(!). YOU are the person stopping yourself from doing those things. Take some risks! You may find you see yourself in a different light- and how you see yourself plays a big role in how others perceive you.
Appreciate your own unique offerings. We all have different talents, and diversity is what makes this world so interesting. We all have something to contribute, something to offer, something worth seeing.
Choose to spend your time with people who are not afraid to be visible. Their attitudes are contagious. Bravery is catching, believe it or not- and we take courage from each other.
On this note, one of my friends recently posted a video of herself fire dancing on a beach in Thailand, and I loved the caption she added.
“I’m sharing this today to confirm to myself that it’s ok to want to be seen, to want to dance & perform and to want to play with fire on the edge of life’s limits. My only mission is to spread joy & ignite passion in others by shining my own…Burn, baby, burn & enjoy the show!”
If you’re feeling unseen, now’s the time to make a change.
No one has to live a life of invisibility.