A few years into working for myself, and the biggest thing holding me back is still my fear of being visible.
About three months into college, I started noticing that people were noticing me—classmates from Western Civ and Intro to PR were saying hello to me on the central lawn, and professors were stopping in the hallways to chat when we crossed paths.
Obviously, this is normal. But it made me feel anxious and tired, like at any moment I was going to have to effortfully be friendly and open, to “be on,” as some people put it. I remember saying to my friends back home that I wish I had gone to a huge state school because then I could be anonymous among 50,000 students.
Deep down, my fear of being seen had grown out of a belief that there was something shameful about who I was.
If I was accidentally observed off-guard, just being myself, there was a chance someone would find out that I was Awful.
For half a decade, I didn’t recognize this, though. I just thought I was a “private person.” Even when I found myself unable to tell the truth about any of my real desires (ranging from the small stuff like what music I liked to the big stuff like what I wanted to do with my life), I still viewed it as an external problem. Other people were too nosy.
It was only when I decided to work for myself that I realized just how big of a problem my fear of being visible had become.
It turns out, I couldn’t become a successful working writer in secret, completely on my own, completely invisible. Not that I didn’t try. For six months or so after college, I lived abroad, powerfully anonymous. I bid on jobs on freelancing platforms and did okay. I didn’t tell too many people about it. But if things hadn’t changed, I would not have been able to keep it up full time.
Fortunately, for whatever reason, I slowly got braver. I wish there was a moment when I ripped off the bandage and suddenly wasn’t afraid anymore, but, hey, that’s not how humans work.
Instead, I took baby steps toward being visible, each one slightly less terrifying than the last: Creating a website for myself. Reaching out to other writers online. Hiring a coach. Signing up for a networking event, chickening out, then managing to go the next time. Saying “I’m a copywriter” without apologizing. Moving to Los Angeles and connecting with other writers and freelancers doing what I was doing. Making genuine friendships with freelancer “colleagues.” Asking for help with my website and social media. Asking for help with my finances. Pitching companies for jobs. Starting a business Instagram account. Telling people my business goals. Sharing what I really want, deep down.
It’s 100% these vulnerable, visible things that have taken me from my “freelancer job board” days to a business that runs on referrals and organic search.
But I’d be lying if I said my fear isn’t still there and isn’t still holding me back in some ways. My fear of being visible is the reason I’m not actively marketing my business much. It’s the reason I share very little about my work with the friends and family from my home town. And it’s the reason I still feel a stomach-clenching anxiety whenever someone tells me they liked my website or an article I wrote. (They saw that? Oh my gosh, I better go back and re-read it to make sure it wasn’t super dumb!)
However, there is an immense difference between college me and me today: I don’t believe there is anything shameful about who I am anymore.
And though the fear of being visible still lingers, I’m more often than not able to do the thing that scares me anyway. Who knows? Maybe in another year, I’ll find my fear has dissipated completely.
I’m sharing this because I suspect I’m not alone. Many of us, especially women, want success…but we’re doing subtle things to prevent us from really “making it.” Because we have a nagging fear that achieving success will mean that we can no longer hide or pretend that we’re aloof. We’ll have to be visible—and by default, vulnerable.
My advice? Recognize your fear and look at it straight it the face, every day. It’s a lot easier to let fear guide your decisions when you’re not conscious of it.
Content courtesy of Krista Walsh, creative copywriting for purpose-driven companies and passionate people
Contributing Author, Krista Walsh
Krista Walsh writes website copy, blog posts, and product descriptions for small eCommerce companies and service-based solopreneurs. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales.
In her free time, she writes about purpose-driven business and freelance life at kristawalshcopywriter.com. On the off chance she’s not writing, she’s volunteering to walk the big ole’ dogs over at the Dog Café LA or watching (pretty bad honestly) TV dramas on Netflix.
Connect with Krista through her website, Krista Walsh Copywriter