At the heart of it all, we want to be SEEN. Really seen, and not just looked at.

Amanda Palmer’s eyes, by David Lindes

I recently revisited the audiobook of Amanda Palmer’s thought provoking book The Art of Asking. And it struck me how much of the work I do is related to this art.

  • How much does an effective digital projection rely on your ability to use that projection skillfully?
  • Do you really know how to use it to ask for people’s attention, engagement, and action?
  • And most importantly, do you know how to use it to ask in the format of a collaboration, rather than using it to beg?

The premise that all asking is collaborative comes from the notion that whatever you’re offering to the world is equal in value to the attention and time of the people you’re asking to pay attention.

This could come in the form of art, or software, or some kind of solution you feel will make the world a better place. Whatever you’re spending your energy to offer, it has an intrinsic value that you can ask people to engage with.

“If asking is a collaboration, then begging is a less connected demand.”— A. Palmer

We want to be seen

How is being “seen” different from being “looked at?” James Cameron touched on this with the Na’vi language in the movie Avatar.

In this language, “I see you” is a formalized greeting where the two participants pause, and take a moment to form a brief, but real connection with one another.

My dear friend Epiphany Jordan runs an extraordinary service centered around something called Karuna Sessions. I’ve been fortunate enough to help her develop the protocol and practice of these sessions over the years. Her service — is that she will see you, and create safe intimacy into which you relax, for real.

She provides a desperately needed service to her clients. A bit of oxytocin in a world ruled by cortisol.

Maybe you feel seen when you are with a loved one, and you drop your guard and allow your heart to be vulnerable in the presence of another.

It happens in the moments when you are able to really see the other human consciousness sitting, embedded in the physical body of the being in front of you.

It can feel dangerous when you drop your guard and allow someone to see the real you. And it can be incredibly rewarding when the current flows between the two of you, resonating along the frequency of shared human experience.

Are you projecting your “optimal self” to the world, or your “optimized self” because it feels like a safer, less vulnerable identity?

It’s much easier to present an edited self to the world. This polished, perfected persona is a much more comfortable face and heart to wear under the gaze of the public eye. This projection can be crafted and tweaked to present the best version of you to a critical audience. Your goal here — optimal results.

When you operate from a place of “optimization” you are creating yourself in the mold of whatever it is you think will drive the best reactions from your customers. You are working for the result — in most cases profit.

Your true purpose might still be at the heart of what you’re doing, but you’ve covered yourself in the mask of what you think is most acceptable, or most attractive to your potential suitors.

You work hard to appear as you THINK you should be, rather than as you are.

But what if you are brave enough to drop the mask and put yourself out there?

Aubrey Marcus, founder and CEO of ONNIT Academy here in Austin TX, talks about something he calls Human Optimization.

The basic concept is that being raw, real, imperfect, passionate, and hard-working is going to yield a completely different experience for you — on an individual or an organizational level.

You don’t have to work so hard to avoid public failure because you aren’t afraid of appearing foolish by trying too hard.

In my last few posts, I’ve been talking about the roles of creative energy, and intimacy in digital-land.

This time, I’m talking about how great connections can be formed when you (a) work to cultivate your optimal self, and (b) drop your mask and dare to attempt a REAL connection. One where you are both seeing and being seen.

  • TO SEE = Really seeing your target audiences and individual personas.
  • TO BE SEEN = Creating engagement and energy exchange between your target audiences and yourself.

What are some steps you can take to better SEE your own audience?

All this theory is great, but what can you actually do to move forward down the path of really being able to see your target audiences?

  1. Reach out and talk to your customers.
    Take them out for a meal if that is at all possible. Properly respectful karaoke and drinking if you can swing it. The point is to connect with these people on a larger level than the single topical intersection of them as customers with your offering as a business.
  2. Pretend to be one of your personas for a little while.
    Role play a little bit and put yourself in the shoes of real people you’re trying to reach. Pay close attention to what you think, feel, and notice when you’re in character.
  3. Share your growing awareness of any personas you craft with one or two of your oldest and best customers.
    See what they might have to add.
  4. Think about the customers you don’t have yet, but want to reach.
    Role play these folks too, to the best of your ability.

How about some actionable steps to move you towards BEING SEEN?

  1. Know Thyself.
    Get to know yourself as well as you can. As a brand or organization, really take the time to spell out your knowledge of self. Not the edited copy of your marketing slicks, but all the things that drive, motivate, and inspire you. Learn all the worst of yourself too if you’re being honest. You DON’T have to use this information in your materials, but it’s helpful to identify it.
  2. Audit Yourself.
    Is the spirit of who you are being clearly expressed in your current digital presence? Or not? What can you do to make this expression more accurate?
  3. Challenge Yourself.
    Where can you make improvements in your projection of self? Without getting into any of your “dirty laundry,” and with an eye towards the fact that you are still putting a public facing image out there — how real can you get? Where can you find great stories that will humanize your brand, and engender the possibility for solid and enduring connection?

What could a world where we worked to actually see one another be like?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fundamental importance of the art of seeing and being seen. About the need for bravery and intimacy. About the countless little moments in our days where connection is possible, but usually skipped.

I’m a little bit introverted, though you might not guess this if your only contact with me is through my writing. I used to think that making too many connections in a day would wear me out, or sap my spirit.

What I’ve discovered is exactly the opposite. When I maintain the practice of looking people in the eye, and offering them a slight smile, I am energized by all these little bursts of connections that manifest naturally around me. They feed my spirit instead of draining it.

When space is allowed for brief, positive connections throughout the day, you feel it.

Something as minor as letting another car out when you’re sitting in slow traffic. Smiling at the checker at the grocery store, and asking them how they are with actual attention instead of feigned politeness.

Paying attention to buskers on the side of the road, and appreciating the art they are offering the world, rather than seeing them as beggars.

The exchange is really quite lovely. I’m grateful for the chance to live in the practice on both a personal as well as a professional level.

And it’s this art of connecting, and the underlying art of asking that lies at the heart of every bit of success you will ever have in the digital world.

Be brave. Be real. Be seen!