Do you remember playing hide-and-go-seek?
My brothers and I spent countless summertime evening hours in our grassy backyard, hiding. The old ash tree was base, and the person who was “It” would begin counting, to 200 by 5’s, face buried (no peeking) in their hands against the tree. The rest of us would scatter, seeking out optimal hiding places where we’d never be found — behind the scraggly cedar bush, up high in the apple tree, lying flat beneath the grapevine, crouched behind the old shed. And then we’d wait. The suspense built as “It” got closer and closer to 200, and once there, he’d turn away from the tree shouting a triumphant, “Ready or not, here I come!“, and the search was on. One by one, “It” would flush us out of hiding, and we’d engage in a race for the tree with hopes of reaching base first.
Sometimes, or rare occasions, I’d choose a particularly amazing hideout. I would hear the others’ screams of surprise and mock-terror as their hiding places were discovered and the race for base ensued. I would sit still, not moving a muscle, barely breathing, proud of myself that I’d found such a good spot, though my crouched legs began to ache. I became aware that I was quite alone in the dark. It didn’t take long for the thrill being the last one to be found to turn into frustration, boredom, and isolation. I was separated from the others running around, laughing and chatting together, while I just cowered there doing nothing. The longer I stayed in hiding, the less fun I had and the more fun everyone else was having without me. I knew it was time to come out of hiding and make a break for home base. But–was it worth it? What if I was tagged before I made it home? I knew I could leverage my strength of speedy legs, and if it came down to an all-out sprint, I’d win. But only if I had the element of surprise. I’d hover there, silent and still, poised to run, contemplating when was the best time to make a dash for freedom. Finally, when I couldn’t take the seclusion anymore, I’d leap up and fly as fast as my feet would carry me toward the old ash tree.
Does this story have a point?
Hiding works for a while but after too long it gets old. We as humans desire to be seen, known, and understood, but oddly we are very good at hiding. Especially from ourselves.
“The vast majority of adults have never met themselves.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Accurate self-assessment is a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s having an inner awareness of our strengths and limitations…knowing ourselves fully. It takes honesty and at times, a brutal truthfulness about where we shine and where we stumble. It often requires us to uncover, peel back, and reveal who we really are, no matter how this exposure make us feel about ourselves. But discovering our true selves, especially the not-so-pretty parts, can be downright scary. What if we don’t like what we find? What if others don’t like what they find? It often seems much easier to find a place to hide and stay there, crouching, in the dark.
This great cover up takes many shapes and forms. Some of us hide ourselves in too much work. Others hide behind success, or a lack of success. Some of us take comfort in plastering a smile on our faces and never speaking our truth. Some hide behind humor, or drama, or complacency. We all do it in some shape or form. No matter how developed your emotional intelligence is, it’s likely that some part of you is shrouded. And it’s your choice to stay there. But until you leap up and make a break for it, you may never reach the freedom of home base.
Are you willing to take a hard look at your blind spots? Vironika Tugaleva, author of The Art of Talking to Yourself, says this: “To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.” I know, it’s easier to lay low, and not delve into our areas of growth. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s better, right?
Though it may seem easier to hide, staying hidden, unknown, and unseen becomes excruciating if it lasts too long. Hiding leads to a lack of self-awareness and separate us from knowing ourselves, and being a part of community, two factors that take a toll on our emotional health. In an article entitled, How Your Self-Awareness Affects Everything You Do, author Phillip Clark says this: “Altogether, self-awareness contributes to a leader’s emotional intelligence, which plays a critical part in their ability to effectively convey messages, recognize motivations, understand emotions, and manage relationships.” (https://www.thriveglobal.com/stories/26329-leadership-behavior-self-awareness).
Knowing ourselves fully by coming out of hiding may be one of the toughest things we do. But it’s the only way we can develop a sense of accurate self-awareness and be fully engaged in our relationships. So how do we make the break for home base?
1-Identify why you’re hiding. One good way to unveil the whys is to look at your fears, and list them out. Our fears can indicate what is important to us — what we fear we might lose. Journal about what you are afraid of. Maybe it’s a loss of financial freedom, or feeling insignificant, or failure. No matter how ‘silly’ they may sound, allow yourself to admit these fears are there. We all have them and figuring out what they are is a great first step.
“To know a species, look at its fears. To know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” — C. JoyBell C.
2-Recognize and name your hiding places. You know where they are — you’ve most likely been crouching in them for years. Mine is entertainment — when I’m laughing, and having a good time, I can pretend my stress and anxieties don’t exist. And if I fill my time with enough entertainment, then I’ll never have to face my fears, right? If you’re having trouble pin-pointing your hiding spots, ask a trusted friend. Often the areas that are blind spots can be brought into the light with the help of someone who is close to you.
“All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on. The real sin is ignoring mistakes, or worse, seeking to hide them. ” — Robert Zoellick
3-Weigh the risks. The hiding space you’ve created may be quite comfortable at this point, but you’re going to have to risk leaving it to discover the real you. Ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that could happen if I leave? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I leave?’ A simple way to work up some bravery is to list out your strengths and areas of growth. For each, write down an example of when that strength or area of growth showed up in your life, to determine if it’s real or just something you’ve concocted in your head. Ask yourself, “Are there real examples of when these strengths or areas of growth appeared, and if so, what were they, when did they happen, and with whom?” Take a good look at these, then try to make peace with them. We all have our good qualities and not-so-good qualities, and sometimes seeing them on paper help put them into perspective.
“In life, we must choose to quiet ourselves and go through a period of reflection, an instance in time for evaluating our strengths vs. our weaknesses, an interval in time for recognizing the real from deceit, a moment in time for making necessary life adjustments for personal welfare. It’s through such, we begin to know ourselves.” –D. Allen Miller, author of Scarlet Tears
4-Leverage your strengths. Like I knew my speedy legs would carry me to home base, your strengths can be the very thing that help you run toward the freedom of accurate self-assessment. For example, if you have good people skills, are you using those relationship strengths to connect with others? Do you eat lunch alone or sit with your colleagues? Are you using your interpersonal skills to build rapport with coworkers and team members, or keeping them all to yourself? Take a closer look at your strengths and brainstorm ways you could begin leveraging them. Our greatest successes tend to come from putting ourselves in a place where we can express our strengths. It’s important you know what they are and how to use them. If you struggle with this, enlisting the help of a social + emotional intelligence coach may help.
“The better you know yourself, the better your relationship with the rest of the world.” –Toni Collette
5-Go. At some point, you just have to make a break for it. No one else can make the decision for you to come out of hiding. But it’s the only to grow in this area of accurate self-assessment. It’s up to you whether you will — but ready or not, you’ll be on your way to seeing yourself a little more clearly and opening up the opportunity to connect more deeply with others.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” — Lao Tzu