A friend of mine used to like to play this game. We were working at a camp, and after dinner, with 30 people milling around the cafeteria, she would announce: “Attention everybody! Brent will now be singing a song for us!”
For the record, this game wasn’t my idea.
Out of the shadows
For many of us, being thrown into the spotlight makes us scurry away faster than insects from under an overturned rock. We turn raspberry-red as our knees turn to jelly (I mean, hypothetically, of course). Instead we turn to the shadows, taking an unassuming servant-hearted posture, quieting going about our work.
But sometimes, uncomfortable as it may feel, our role, art, or mission, requires that we step into the spotlight. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, but the fire in our belly won’t let us hide.
Is it possible to take a selfie without feeling like a selfish attention-seeker? Can asking for the attention of others be, in fact, a generous act?
Performance as hospitality
The famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma is no stranger to the spotlight. As a soloist he is capable of captivating audiences for hours at a time. He considers performance to be something like hospitality, as he explains in his interview on the On Being podcast.
When I’m on stage, all of you that are in the hall are my guests. I’m the host of a wonderful party. You’re all my guests, because I have the floor… The greater purpose is that we’re communing together and we want this moment to be really special for all of us. Because otherwise, why bother to have come out at all?
…It’s not about how many people are in the hall. It’s not about proving anything. It’s about sharing something.
Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t step into the spotlight to draw attention to himself, but to share something with his audience, to commune with his guests.
No, thank YOU
In a similar way, assuming the spotlight provides an opportunity to be generous to others.
When I first performed in front of people as a young piano student, I was taught to bow after my performance as a way of saying “thank you” to the audience for their time and attention.
In later years I joined Toastmasters, where I was taught not to end my speeches with the natural “thank you.” It’s the audience that should be thanking you, I was told.
An audience offering their attention is a gift, worthy of gratitude. But so is your speech, your performance, or your art. Maybe this mutual gratitude is a natural result of the kind of communion Yo-Yo Ma is referring to. Both sides feel they’ve received a gift.
Step into the spotlight
You might not have a friend who likes to throw you into the spotlight as I did (though, in a cruel way, part of me hopes you do), but maybe you do have something to share. If you do, remember that stepping into the spotlight doesn’t have to be selfish, it can also be an act of generosity. When you get on stage, you’re hosting a party, and we want to be part of the fun.
Step up and share, the rest of us will thank you.