Attention – Personal Essay

Attention is not just the lagging of our eye muscles as we sip coffee in class, craving our brains to soak in the last drop of information. Nor is in something we seek, in my opinion. Needy, whiny, clingy. Foolish words to describe a neglected need.

We scream it from the rooftops. We relish it, reject it, avoid it, curse it, crave it. All in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.

Lately, it seems that the force keeping us tied to the earth is not gravity, but the intense push and pull for attention. A desire and a fear, depending on the situation. From our social media followers and friends, to our parents and bosses.

In school, I heard people claim girls with florescent hair or buzz cuts were crying out for attention. It was always said with a pinched face, full of false pity destined only to insinuate pathetic.

In university, our minds honed in on the mature student with their hands always highest in the air and branded them attention seekers.

Attractive women are cast as demure by day in films, yet vibrant by night. Like a switch, dependent on the ‘right’ setting in the eye’s of the storyteller, receiving the right kind of attention.

Recently, I started a new job. It goes without saying, first days are tough. I am strong, yes. I am emotionally intelligent, yes. This is how I know and can admit that I looked like Bambi learning to walk during New York fashion week as I entered the office on my first day. Yet I’m not alone in this. No matter how graceful you are, it’s an uncomfortable experience. This particular first day got me thinking about attention and why, at the age of twenty-four, my relationship with this experience changed over the course of perhaps the most formitative years of our lives.

I saw myself in secondary school as frumpy, uncool and awkward, yet this didn’t stop me craving the validation of the elite – the ‘shiny’ girls, as I called them in my mind. The phrase was far from derogatory but instead was akin to calling them royal.

Once, in Transition Year, my best friend asked me if I could change one thing about myself, what would it be. A myriad of physical changes came to mind – my freckles bothered me then, my weight too. Instead I chose something much more dire to me and proclaimed; I want to be more likeable.

What I meant, however, was different from what I said. I said I wanted to be likeable. What I meant was that I wanted to be seen.

Now, as adulthood is a reality that I simply cannot avoid any longer, Ive seen a shift inside of me and not one I’m particularly fond of. I’ve retreated. From social media, from pictures, from some friends – from wanting attention in any way.

Even the level of introspection I was doing diminished and as this whole blog is based on my reflective thoughts, I know this withdrawn nature was far from my natural manner. I thrive when I am trying to evolve towards a better version of whomever I am meant to be. But lately, these goals faded somewhat.

This past year has been difficult. A challenge, which I overcame. But I realise now that so few people would know of that struggle because of the attention I physically shunned with everything from my clothes to the people I texted.

I wanted to be shiny for so long that to have my basic instinct for attention flip has caught me off guard and left me with a version of myself that I didn’t know what do with for a long time.

However, I’m no longer confused.

I realise now that when I was a teenager and watched the girls who looked so pretty, funny and always happily walk for their lunch, I felt disjointed. They seemed utterly themselves at a time when I was sixteen and so new to my real personality. How, I demanded of myself, could they know themselves already?

Now, I know who I am and I don’t crave to be anyone else. But I do crave to be recognised for who I am now. I want attention for my authenticity, my genuine experience as myself.

When life is hard, and I feel as though who I am is being compressed into an ugly, unhappy shape, I reject attention.

That is the least authentic version of who I am, so why would I want to be recognised for it?

My withdrawal when life is hard is simply me withdrawing from the least authentic parts of my life. If I am cannot be a true version of myself, then existing in the falseness of others is too much. Or broadcasting my inauthentic mindset feels like a tremendous disservice to no one but myself.

I’ve come to realise that this is just the newest manifestation of one of my core personality traits; honesty.

But now things are looking up. My world is changing for the better – or at least I’ve decided it is. So, it is time for our most basic human need, attention to come back to the fore.

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