By Angela Noel
March 20, 2018
Two months ago, something magical happened: WordPress Discover featured my post, Co-Parenting: Confessions of a Part-Time Mom, as an Editor’s Pick!
I’d submitted the post on January 15 and heard back from an editor within minutes. I had just over a week to prepare for my January 23rd debut. I felt both honored and excited. Who would I meet? Would my words resonate with others? Would I get evil comments or get spammed by bots promoting Viagra?
But as the day approached, mixed with the excitement, an uneasy feeling crept in.
Being “Out There”
When the 23rd rolled around, I was delighted by the reaction. My wonderful Facebook blogging group shared the post and sent me lovely messages. My friends and family congratulated me. Hundreds of people read it. Lots of people commented on it, sharing heartfelt stories. My followers doubled, tripled, quadrupled. No one said anything evil. Only one bot spammed me with an invitation to try Cialis for my erectile dysfunction needs.
Despite all the delights of that first week, the uneasy feeling persisted. I acted weird. I walked the hallways at work, and talked with co-workers as I always do. But everything felt different.
Most people didn’t know about my post. Why should they? Though proud of the recognition, I didn’t wear a patch on my shirt or put a sign up on my office door that read: Hi, my name is Angela and I was featured on WordPress Discover! The very fact that it was OUT THERE, made me jumpy.
Clearly, I publish online and share things on social media. I KNOW it’s public and people can see it. But until the editors picked my post, I’d never really thought about the acceleration process–how things can bloom outside of my control. I suddenly felt terribly vulnerable.
As a result of this vulnerable feeling, I sensed all eyes on me. I heard whispering in the halls and worried they whispered about me. When I spoke to new people, I worried I’d said the wrong thing. Every time I made a joke, I fretted that I hurt someone’s feelings. This went on for a whole week. Truthfully, I knew I was being ridiculous. But, a cognitive bias had me by the brain.
The Spotlight Effect
Known as “the spotlight effect” this elf leads us to mistakenly conclude that others are thinking about us, our actions and words, far more than they really are. For example, that pimple I’m so ashamed of, the mistake I made on the conference call, or the time I split my pants at work . . . all of these imperfections loom large in my mind, but are the merest of blips on the radar of everyone else (if they’re noticed at all).
However, it’s not always easy to notice when the spotlight effect is at work. For example, I’m not particularly self-conscious as a general rule. Public speaking doesn’t bother me. But this was something different. My feelings, my art, my family, my child, my greatest love was all on display on a much bigger stage. It scared me. And my brain tried to help by making me pay extra attention to the reactions of people around me–I saw threats where there were none. My brain tried to keep me safe. It tried to help me fit in.
Thank you, brain. But also, please stop. I’m okay.
Next time I have a bigger stage for my words to sing on, I’ll be less afraid. After talking about the spotlight effect with friends and co-workers, I know it happens to us all. I can short-circuit its effects by realizing that no matter what, even if I’d had an evil comment or two or ten, it wouldn’t change anything. I’d still be me. I’d still want to share and connect, learn and grow.
I’m so grateful to the editors of WordPress Discover. I also owe a debt to Susie Lindau for writing her post: How to Be Discovered on WordPress. Despite my fears, and my episode of weirdness, I wouldn’t trade a single second of this experience.
More than anything, I feel honored by the many comments of readers. I promise to share my best self, and all my flaws and vulnerabilities, with you. Sometimes, I might be afraid. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Your turn: Have you ever felt exposed and vulnerable? When have you suffered from the spotlight effect?