Last week I wrote this, talking about how I was worried people in college would notice me in my brand new loafers. I’ve been thinking about that notion a lot this week.
When I was a child we did not have a vaccine for Chicken Pox. (This is not a post about vaccines; it’s a post about Alice. Remember Alice?) The Chicken Pox vaccine we had was getting the Chicken Pox. If you had siblings, you could usually count on those raised red bumps making their way through the house in one trip. However, for our family, it was not the case. My brother got them. I didn’t.
So my mother did what all good mothers in the 1970’s did. She volunteered me. When Matt was out with the Chicken Pox, I took his homework to him. When Curt was out with the Chicken Pox, I brought him baseball cards. It may not be a direct quote, but I’m pretty sure I remember my mom saying to me, “Jeff is at home with the Chicken Pox. Go to his house and wrestle him. Don’t come back until I yell for you.”
Still didn’t get them.
Fast forward to 1988, my Freshman year of college. My parents came to visit for Parents Weekend, and while we were at dinner Saturday night, I started getting a headache. It was not an excuse to ditch my parents. I went back to my room and went to bed. When I met them for brunch the next morning, my mother asked, “What’s that spot next to your eye?”
I went home with my parents, laid in bed for a few days. I don’t remember much until after the fever broke. I don’t know if it’s medically true that Chicken Pox are worse the older you get them. I just know they were bad. People said you can’t scratch them because they’ll scar. I thought I would just scratch the ones on top of my head. The hair would cover the scars, right?
Anyway, I returned to school a week later, still covered in spots, but spots that no longer posed a threat to anyone else. I was a sight. My body was covered in red, dry, flaky scabs. I couldn’t shave because of them, but because I was 18, I only needed to shave every week or so anyway. And even then, it was only necessary to shave a couple spots, right cheek, left side of my chin, a spot on my neck. So I’m covered in spots, I got these nasty patches of hair growing out of my face. I thought about making the package complete and putting my foot in a burlap sack and drag it behind me, like some 1950’s monster movie.
I was so afraid of how people were going to look at me.
But no one was looking. It took me years to understand that no one was looking at me. I’m guessing if I have college friends reading this, their reaction is, “You had Chicken Pox?”
No one was looking at me. They were all too busy worrying about other people looking at them.
We say we’re afraid of what other people think of us. Often I think we use that to mask a deeper fear: What if no one is thinking of us?
What if no one is thinking of us? What if we aren’t noticed at all? That fear strikes a place deep inside us that we don’t want to acknowledge, so we opt for doing whatever we need to do to get noticed. One part of us if thinking, “I hope no one notices me.” Another part wants to scream, “LOOK AT ME! NOTICE ME!”
We mistranslate people noticing us for validating us, as though being recognized is truly being seen. We give way too much weight to LIKES and SHARES as though they somehow measure the value of who we are.
Many grow out of this way of thinking. Many don’t.
So if you’ve read this far, let me prepare you for the predictable close. The predictable, valuable close.
You matter. Whether anyone else notices you or not. You matter. Do not bend yourself to the image you believe others should have of you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you matter.
Take the energy, the soul-sucking, life-draining energy you have spent trying to be something you are not and use that energy to be the kindest and most authentic version of you that you can. Be who you were created to be. The people you’re trying to impress aren’t noticing anyway.