“I bought it because it made me more visible,” I overheard a young woman say. She was talking about her new car and went on to explain that she had test-driven this car in different colors until she found the one she believed people would notice.
I thought back to when I was her age and bought my first new car. I chose one that was the most efficient for the least amount of money. It had a manual transmission and no extras, not even air conditioning—luxuries were for others, I believed—not for me. I never thought that it could help me be visible.
I am a second-born child. A Google search on my birth order brings up articles using phrases like “fighting for attention.” I’ve always wondered if the person who created the slogan for Avis rental cars was a second-born child—We try harder.
After all the excitement over the first-born, the second can seem rather ho-hum and been there/done that. A second-born child can easily feel lost in the shadow of the first-born.
I grew up believing that I was invisible, and it was not until my mid-thirties that I got a clue to the contrary. It was during a transition time, and I was flitting back and forth from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Michigan and back again to Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where I wanted to live.
“You can’t keep coming and going like that,” a Philadelphia friend declared, with tears in her eyes and her voice full of emotion. She explained how difficult it was for her to say good-bye and grieve my leaving, only to have me come back a few months later—and then leave again after another few months.
“You noticed that I left?” I asked her, incredulous that my leaving even registered on her radar. Until then, I believed that I had zero impact on anyone; it did not occur to me that my actions were seen, let alone impactful.
I took her words to heart, though, and started paying attention to how others saw me. Once I realized I was not invisible, I reviewed my life and could see a trail of hurt in my wake—a divorce, ended friendships and more inappropriate relationships that I cared to remember.
Being invisible had equaled not taking responsibility for my actions. I was like the tree falling in the woods that no one is present to hear—if no one saw me, how could my actions have consequences?
Knowing that I was visible produced a sea change in my self-understanding and my behavior. Over time, I came to understand that not only was I visible, but that I am actually quite a strong personality. Who knew?
Believing in my visibility took a long time, and I am grateful to that Philadelphia friend for opening my eyes.
The young woman who bought the car with the highest visibility rating? She was the baby in her family and accustomed to being seen.