"I'm okay if you see me"

Before I started my business, I hid my insecurities behind the powerful brands I worked for and the extraordinary teammates I worked with. Sure, I was a star with bylines, access and influence. But I wasn’t the star.  

These days though, it’s just me and my thoughts, words, programs and service. And I quickly realized that being the business while running a business demands an often-uncomfortable level of authenticity.

It didn’t stop me from trying though. My naiveté convinced me that the business would be enough. That I could manipulate my work to shield myself from the responsibility of showing up and being seen. But that’s just not possible these days. Folks want to know as much about the point of view the people behind their favorite brands as the products, services and experiences they eventually end up purchasing.

This hit me like a wrecking ball at the end of last year when my life and business was at a crossroads. I realized if I was going to create the impact and generate the kind of human currency I wanted and needed to design my work and life on my own terms, it would require me to embrace and share myself in a way that I’d been unwilling to up to that point.

Earlier this month, Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, sat with New York Times culture reporter Sopan Deb for a TImesTalks conversation on his career, politics and creating more opportunities for diverse voices in late-night comedy.

Around the 16:46 mark, Deb asked: “Is there a skill that you have gained from doing the show that you didn’t have before?”

Colbert’s response perfectly reflects where I'm at in my personal and professional evolution:  

“I’m okay if you see me. [Before,] I was not okay for you to see me.”

Moments later, he explained:

“This is the first time that I’ve just been myself. And that took me a while to find the way to — I never minded being seen on stage … but to be seen as myself, and for that to be sufficient. … To be able to stand on stage and know that in a forum of entertainment, heightened entertainment with pace and beats and all that thing that you, just yourself — or a version of you because everybody has a persona — is sufficient took me a little while to trust.”

That’s so real.

And this evolution wasn’t an overnight sensation. It took coaching, counseling, radical lifestyle changes and a commitment to showing up and being seen when it would be easier to shrink and retreat.

Because the richness of our human experience rests in our ability to be who we are — as we are — and show ourselves and each other that we have just as much in common as we have things that make us different.

I’m grateful for Colbert reminding me.

Here's the entire convo: