There you are

“There are two types of people in the world: the ones who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’ and those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are.’”

I read this adage again recently in a post from one of my blogger heroes, and it struck me in a new way.

I had been thinking about it from the perspective of presentations and public speaking – which I do a lot of in my day job.

I like to think I’m a ‘there you are’ presenter. Considering and appreciating an audience comes naturally to me, and when you show up with the audience in mind rather than trying to showcase yourself, you’re more likely to connect.

The thing is, it’s not my presenting that needs work. It’s my everything else. It’s taking there you are out in the world with me.

Because that relaxed, concise and funny woman at the lectern? She’s on borrowed time. The glass slipper always falls off as I step off the risers. Meet me at the conference networking event or that evening’s reception and I’m that awkward lady with the sweaty handshake for whom mingling is death by a thousand cuts. Thank God for the cash bar.

Part of this is just being an introvert. Being alone or with a few select people, at home or in quiet places, is how I recharge. Being in public, even for something I enjoy, is a drain on my batteries from the jump. Sometimes it’s hard for people to match up my enjoyment of public speaking with my introversion, but lots of performers are introverts. We’re great when we have a prescribed role to play. It’s the freestyle social interaction that makes us wilt.

The other part…did you ever read the Judy Blume book Deenie, about the young girl who has to spend some of her formative years wearing an enormous, uncomfortable and highly visible back brace to straighten her spine? Yup, that was me – minus Deenie’s affluent family. And it turns out that visible orthotic devices are a mother-freaking MAGNET for nosiness, assumptions, and assholery. As a child and young teen I was guaranteed to draw stares most places I went, and I could make you a long list of things that have happened to me in public that range from breathtaking insensitivity to downright cruelty. And things that sometimes happen even now, since there’s still a little hitch in my giddyup, though the back brace is long gone.

So introversion plus an early history of people being nasty to me in public, means that I can be pretty guarded when out and about. I’m not usually the person who chats up cashiers and waitstaff. The barista does not know my name. And I have a pretty serious case of resting bitch face.

But you know what? That kind of guardedness is just the shadow version of “here I am.”  In constantly having my guard up, I am making my interactions with strangers all about me. How can I really see anyone else (there you are) when I am so preoccupied with protecting myself?

Considered in context, that long list of public wrongs I could make…it’s just not so long. Say I’ve had fifty awful, scalding interactions with strangers in my lifetime. Say I’ve had a hundred. I could certainly make a list of equal length of encounters with people who have been spectacularly kind. And I have had millions upon millions of interactions in which people have been neutral. So this thing I’m so afraid of that is the reason I’m so guarded….mathematically speaking, it almost never happens.

A couple weeks ago I started wearing a little brass bracelet (Etsy!) that I had stamped with the words there you are. I wear it turned toward me, and those three little words give me three big messages:

See others. It’s a nudge for me stay present enough to really see the people around me; to put aside my guardedness and connect, if I can. Strangers are not obstacles I need to move around as quickly as possible until I can get back to the places I feel safe. They are people with hearts and souls and stories and reasons of their own to feel guarded.

See THOSE others. At the same time, there are people in my life who have proven over and over that they do not have my best interest at heart. We all have these to varying degrees, and we each have our own reasons for continuing to have contact with them. Being fully present means I’m not taken off guard – I remember to watch what they do, not what they say. To stay sane and safe, I must allow myself to see them as the people they have already shown themselves to be, and then act accordingly.

You are seen too. I believe in something greater than myself. Call it what you like; the universe, spirit, God, the quantum field. In any case, I feel like I am not alone. This reminds me that I, too, am seen by this great benevolence, even as I go about my unnoticed work.

On a day when I had just started wearing my reminder bracelet, I went into the coffee shop by my office. The barista said, “How’s your Tuesday?” The smallest of small talk – but the warm authenticity of his tone snapped me right into the present moment. I smiled, made eye contact, and saw him. I saw him on my next visit, and the one after that.

I think he might know my name.

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