Want to be Real? Turn off the Spotlight!

Everybody loves Sophia1! She is always cheerful and caring. Above all, she radiates a sense of authenticity, of sincerity. It seems that inside her live a loving puppy Scooby Doo and an affectionate grandmother, whose house always smell like freshly baked cookies. Her behaviors and words are grounded, honest, and at times, totally goofy. We laugh with her; we also shut up and listen when she has something to say. And of course, someone like Sophia loves children and children love her back. It is said that children are most sensitive to the energy of a person, and they like to be close to someone who emanates a warm, tender, beautiful energy. I guess, and hope, you have met somewhere a “Sophia” in your life. These are people who teach us how to be real.

I used to have a constant feeling that I was in the spotlight, while the world is a stage - a catwalk. Spotlight everywhere. Spotlight when I drove motorbike on the street. Spotlight when I sat in a café. Spotlight when I walked into a room full of strangers. Spotlight when I walked into any room, perhaps only at the exception of toilet. Spotlight when I walked in general.


These spotlights made me nervous because when everyone was watching, I’d better not slip on banana peels and fall face-flat. It brought me tension and obliged me to spend plenty of time in the shop and in front of the mirror. I would check myself out every time I walked pass mirrors or glass walls. I would try to appear cool and smart and restrained myself from being goofy, like humming or dancing to a song. Because I pay so much attention to myself, I deprived my ability to pay attention to people, to conversations, to the surroundings. I also suffered a great deal of shame whenever things did screw up, when the banana peels happened for real. Then I’d get angry at myself for destroying my “image”.


One day, I came across a passage written by Francine Jay in her book “The Joy of Less” - one of the best book on the topic of minimal living in the market, it says:

“In reality, the majority of us have no need for celebrity-sized wardrobes, and our clothes and accessories will never garner widespread comment or attention. Nevertheless, marketers try to convince us that we live in the spotlight, and would do well to dress accordingly.” 

At that time I read “The Joy of Less” in the hope of curing my compulsive shopping disorder. It not only changed how I shop, but also how I live because there, in a café on a summer day, the word “spotlight” hit me. It hit me hard. It got straight through my head like a bullet that I have been thinking so high of myself, having my egotistical head up at my arrogant ass all the time.

So I invented a practice: whenever I sense that “spotlight” feeling, I will remind myself: “Turn the light off!”. I imagine a calm and still darkness around me, there was just me and the person I was talking to or the very thing that I was doing. I remove myself from the freaking navel of the universe. In fact, I don’t need to remove myself because I have never been there. After many practices, I felt more at ease, more light, more goofy. When nobody is watching, I am free to move my body to a cheerful tune or have a big grin on my face whenever a good memory flashes back. I become more mindful of my surroundings.


The other day when I was walking from the parking lot to the class room – which were seriously a hundred meters apart – I tripped over a rock and fell down all over the school yard, which were full of students. Before when things like this happened, I would be hot washed with embarrassment. But I told myself “Turn off the light!”. I stood up, gathered my stuff, dusted myself off, and kept on walking. I was surprised that I did not feel a whiff of shame.

I wonder if we can do the same whenever we stumble and fall in life. Because really, nobody is watching most of the time. And if someone does, who care anyway? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” Samuel Beckett said so. 

Not only with failure, I think we should keep the light off even, and especially, when we succeed. Will you still do what you are doing, even when nobody is watching? No praise, no raving comments, no camera flash. No ego trip of gratification. No spotlight. I hope the answer is yes. I hope we do what we do in the humble darkness more often, with diligence and perseverance, because we love it, not because everyone love we doing it. I hope we are real.

Quill small

What about you?

Are you feeling in the spotlight?

Have you tried to “turn the light off”?

1Sophia Fan is a real friend of mine. We worked together for one year in the AIESEC global team in The Netherlands. She is a Chinese and living now in China.