Living In The Limelight

Have you ever made a mistake or committed a social gaffe and then felt as if everyone was watching you, sure that every person in the room noticed and would forever remember your faux pas? Everyone has. This is so common it even has a name, The Spotlight Effect.

In a paper titled, “The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgment: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance,” researchers found that subjects consistently misjudge how much others notice either their mistakes or their successes by a factor of 2 or more. We simply think people are way more interested in us then they are. In the paper they state:

“People tend to believe that more people take note of their actions and appearance than is actually the case. We dub this putative phenomenon the spotlight effect: People tend to believe that the social spotlight shines more brightly on them than it really does.”

In “Limelight” Rush lead, Geddy Lee, sings;

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage

We perceive a reality where we are the center of attention and everyone’s eyes are on us. What we fail to realize or acknowledge is that everyone else sees themselves on that same stage, and we are in the audience. If you have ever been on stage with the lights in your eyes, you know how hard it is to see the people in the seats.

This is both good and bad news.

The good news is, you can relax! People are not scrutinizing you the way you think they are. They may or may not notice something embarrassing you do, but they will likely not remember it for long. As someone much older and wiser than I told me, “Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you, because mostly they don’t.”

The bad news is, it takes a lot of work to get noticed. With the advent of instant communications and nearly ubiquitous social media, there is even more noise than ever before making it even harder to get noticed at all. If you get your value or worth from doing (and getting noticed) you will struggle to find enough recognition.

There is a silver lining to this though. If I can remember that people are mostly concerned with how they are presenting themselves, and not so much about me, I can relax and be my authentic self. I can put less effort into “looking” good and put more effort into connecting with people. As far as getting noticed goes, the noise that is so prevalent in our society today is most easily pierced by transparency and authenticity. Being comfortable as myself puts other people at ease and reduces the anxiety associated with connection and interaction. I may not get noticed by the world, but the people that do notice me may actually connect in ways that are helpful to them and to me.

At Kimray you are valued as you are. You are not competing for attention or worth. This is true, but you must choose to believe it and act in ways that are congruent with that truth. Remembering that people are naturally more interested in themselves helps us put how others view us in a healthy perspective, and also gives us a reason to connect with others and show them we do care and notice them in positive and loving ways.

Make a point this week of telling others that you appreciate them. Point out to them the ways they benefit your life and the reasons you are grateful for them. Like someone clapping in the audience, your appreciation may help them see out of the spotlight and notice that you are part of their team.