What are some of your hopes?
Here are some of mine.
- I want my daughter to grow up to be a happy, healthy, confident adult.
- I’d like to have more energy and more time.
- I’d like to feel great about my life, rather than having that niggling sense that there are some things I really need to change.
There are probably a thousand more things, but those are the biggies. And really only the first one matters. My life is what it is. But I have a responsibility as a parent, one I can’t fumble.
Your hopes and dreams may be bigger than mine. They may be more defined. You may have a gorgeous, sprawling Pinterest board or a spreadsheet of goals that keeps you on track to achieving the life you want.
But perhaps you’ve noticed something about all those hopes and dreams.
When you finally achieve something you’ve been working hard for, something you’ve always wanted…
It never feels quite like you thought it would.
There’s a short sharp shock of joy—you did it!—and then, inexplicably, a hollowness. As if you’ve lost something.
You did lose something. You lost your direction.
Our hopes and dreams move us forward. They give us a destination to shoot for, so we don’t end up wandering aimlessly.
Once we’ve arrived at our destination, though, we’re at a loss. Do we stay here and pretend to enjoy ourselves, or do we find somewhere else new to go?
Some say it’s better to give up goals altogether and just focus on what makes you happy.
That would work, if happiness weren’t so slippery. You think you know what will make you happy—marriage to the right guy, a gorgeous home, a big family—and then you get it all … only to feel dissatisfied.
That aching, that yearning, never seems to go away. Nothing is ever enough.
It’s like we’ve got this hole in the center of our chests. No matter how much we pour into it, it always feels empty.
It wasn’t until recently, when I heard Seth Godin interviewed on the “Don’t Keep Your Day Job” podcast, that I understood where that sense of emptiness comes from.
He argues that what we want is simpler than ALL of that.
We think life is complicated. We think we need all of these different things to be happy. But it’s not true.
We all crave the same thing:
To be seen.
Seen for who we truly are. Smiled at. Approved of.
We want some sort of recognition that we exist, that we matter, that we would be missed if we were gone.
That’s why we spend our lives chasing goals.
We’re trying to make other people see us, by doing something so well that people can’t help but notice us.
Maybe if we tell the funniest jokes or have the juiciest gossip, those around us will hang on our every word.
Maybe if we spend hours in the gym and force ourselves into tight jeans, heads will turn as we walk down the street.
Maybe if we post the most interesting content on social media, we’ll get tons more likes and followers.
Maybe if we get that raise or get that new house, the people we want approval from will acknowledge us at last.
We just want to be acknowledged.
But we think we have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get it.
The alternative is to be invisible.
And we all know how THAT feels.
Loneliness has become an epidemic. Nearly three-quarters of us feel lonely occasionally, while nearly a third feel lonely at least once a week. More and more of us feel that we have no close friends we can talk to.
And the consequences of all that loneliness? The New York Times puts it bluntly:
All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”
Being seen makes us feel less alone. If just one person really sees us, we feel stronger. We feel like we can go on.
No wonder the hunt for a romantic partner consumes our early years.
We want to be seen so much. We want to be known by someone. We want to have someone in our lives we can trust enough to reveal our truest selves.
Even celebrities, with their faces on billboards across the country, don’t always feel seen. They value friends and family who can see them for who they are, rather than through the lens of their fame.
So how do we create a world where everyone feels they’re seen?
We don’t do it by getting louder and more in-your-face. When everyone is clamoring to be seen, no one gets seen.
We do it by taking the time to see the people who show up in our everyday life.
Africans already do this. Zulu speakers have a greeting:
It means, “I see you.”
Not as in, “I’m looking at you right now.” But rather, “I am present in this moment with you.”
Glen Pearson elaborates:
It says, ‘I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.’”
Imagine how our world would change if we took the time to communicate that sentiment. “I see you. I respect you. I have time for you.”
That change can start with us.