On The Virtue Of Invisibility

A counter-intuitive approach to success

There is plenty of noise out there on the interwebs about “stepping up” and “being seen”. I’ve been actively ignoring the advice of many of my coaching colleagues & friends and doing the opposite, with wonderful success.

You made a choice for us to live it up
I’ve got a voice inside me saying give it up
Let’s get out of here, let’s find a new career
You be famous, and I’ll disappear
I erase myself again
— Porcupine Tree

Consult any life-coach (or their variants) and you’ll be told that in order to achieve your goals and be successful, you need to “play large” (not small), “step up and be seen”, and other such sentiments to that effect.

In many cases, this advice is incredibly empowering and useful for those needing a bit of a kick up the backside to achieve their dreams and visions for themselves.

There are instances where such advice is not appropriate, and trained, qualified professionals such as therapists and doctors usually would err on the side of caution when physiological and/or psycho-emotional health concerns would suggest otherwise. Like in the case of severe anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and recovery from a multitude of other chronic illnesses which impede high performance.

From the perspective of many wisdom traditions, rest and low-key activities are also valued at certain times in one’s life. In Taoism for example, the yin activities of stillness are called for in moments where not moving or retreat will be more efficacious in an endeavour than progressing forwards (a yang activity).

For example, have you ever found that “sleeping on it” has given you more clarity over making a decision instantly?

I spent around six months offline at the start of this year, having deactivated all social media accounts and removing apps from my phone. This s-l-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-w-e-d  down my experience of life remarkably. What’s also fascinated me was how the invisibility of the experience has affected my nervous system.

Disappearing act

I was very active on social media for several years as I used it to promote myself as a natural medicine practitioner. Every aspect of my life was essentially public domain as I demonstrated the efficacy of my lifestyle and my own health/wellbeing advice. Videos of my Qigong training and excerpts from workshops and seminars I held were mixed in with photos of lunch or dinner with family and friends. Posts exposing my every fear and flaw were appearing daily to sell myself to anyone who was listening. Everywhere I went, people I didn’t know would say, “oh, you’re that guy on…” or “I follow you on…”

This petite-célébrité came with a price: I lost my anonymity. A slave to the expectations of others, my personal identity became linked with my professional one. I realised that the process of retiring from my profession would also need me to disappear from ‘public’ view. This was what the mountain wolf was demanding of me.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

That there
That’s not me
I go where I please
— Radiohead

It’s not because I have low self-esteem, or lack confidence in social situations. Yes, I consider myself somewhat of an introvert  —  because I am recharged and empowered by extended periods of time in solitude and away from public gaze. And for many years, I have pushed myself (“played large”, “been seen”, etc.) into a very public presence that has been relentless.

Introverts are highly undervalued in our very yang/push/hustle society. Those coaches and personalities that espouse the need to “play large” are usually also highly extroverted, with a lot of excess collateral energy (ayurvedic philosophy may describe them as pitta types). They thrive and are enervated by large, busy social scenes. They need to be seen, they need the attention. It also makes for very good sales technique: appeal to the ego, the very-human desire for adoration and attention, and you can sell pretty much any course, book, or coaching program.



Being invisible, being unseen has its own merits — not better or worse, just different. For those of us on this end of the spectrum, our creativity and initiative come from being behind closed doors. When noise is absent, our thoughts and feelings become palpable, and we get closer to a sense of our true nature, which is usually subtle, quiet, and humble.

When people can express their true nature — publicly and privately — then we have a society of resilient, empowered, and capable individuals who contribute in their own special way. While attempting to create clones can certainly sell products, ultimately it brings harm to our society.

So I go on now. An anonymous person in an anonymous job. My phone is silent, except for messages from closest and dearest friends. My time is spent reading books and playing RPG’s and cooking meals. Yes, life is slower and quieter at present.

And it may not last — so I’ll relish every moment.

I invite you to consider and share your thoughts on the following in the comments section below:

  • Do you consider yourself seen or unseen by the world you inhabit?
  • Which would you prefer?
  • What action (or omission) can you take today to make that happen the way you want it to?

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