The stage is dark, and the audience waits in anticipation for your act to begin. Suddenly, the curtains open and the spotlight switches on. There you are, in front of everyone—in your underwear!
Have you ever felt that way? There’s actually a name for it: the “spotlight effect.” It’s where you think people are always looking at you. Worse still, you’re convinced those same people are making judgments about you. So you start worrying about what you wear, how you walk, and what you say. At other times, you just try to blend in with everyone else. That way, the spotlight won’t be on you!
Reality check: everyone is too worried about themselves to pay any attention to you. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. Oh, there will always be some kid or group who tries to make themselves feel better by making fun of how someone else looks or does. Here’s another reality check: those kids have more problems than you do.
So, chances are, unless you’re walking around with drinking straws hanging out your nostrils and a bat dangling from your left earlobe, you’re not in anyone’s spotlight. If they say something rude about you, just smile and say, “Hey, thanks for noticing.”
Are there things you can do to really make sure? Of course. You can be kind, do your homework, make friends with kids who share your view of life, wear nice but not outlandish clothes, and more. You might end up in the “spotlight,” but it will be for all the right reasons!
Why did the chicken cross the road? He was fetching the soccer ball the donkey had kicked over the goal.*
Now, a couple of you thought this joke was hilarious, while many more of you found it mildly amusing. Perhaps the majority of readers are simply asking, “How does this fellow manage to keep his job?” Whichever the case, you were supposed to laugh, even if you didn’t.
What I find disturbing is people laughing at me when they aren’t supposed to. When I was about your age, I was pretty sure people were constantly laughing at me. This results from being “overly self-conscious.” Thankfully, most humans totally overcome this problem by age 75.
It turns out that vast throngs of junior high school students are overly self-conscious. (Don’t confuse being self-conscious with the ability to stay awake during, say, Mr. Tooboring’s science class. Keeping yourself conscious during these kinds of situations is a different matter entirely.) The following example will help illustrate a junior high school student’s tendency to think that everybody else is always looking at them, laughing at them, or talking about them.
Let’s say you’ve gone to the Gaptooth at the local mall and purchased a funky new blouse. Assuming you’re a girl, you probably look great in it. But the next morning when you walk into school, you think, I can’t take my jacket off! If I do, everyone will look at my new blouse! You begin perspiring. Maybe someone will think it looks stupid . . . and they’ll laugh at me!
Now, do you really think that because of your choice of clothing someone is suddenly going to mistake you for roadkill? Is anybody actually going to burst out laughing? That’s likely to happen only if the blouse features an inquisitive child named Dora on it with the accompanying words ”the” and “Explorer.” Otherwise, you’re probably fine. Worst-case scenario: the class bully, Olga Gutpuncher, laughs at you. So who’s got the real problem—you or Olga? Hint: it’s not you.
Still, overcoming self-consciousness can take some time. Once I was jog- ging down a sidewalk near Seattle, Washington. At that moment my eyes were fixed on a group of teens on the far side of an Albertsons supermarket parking lot.
Those teens look like they’re up to no good, I thought. It would have been better if I’d been watching where I was going. That way I would’ve stayed on the running path instead of nearly cutting myself in half as I ran into a wire stretched tightly from a parking lot lightpost to a nearby stake in the ground. Imagine a giant piece of elbow macaroni, and you will have a good idea of the configuration of my body during this time.
Bouncing back to my original fully upright position, I glanced back at the teens. They were laughing at me!
Or were they? Come to think of it, they were way over on the other side of the parking lot. Could it be they were actually laughing at the “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke one of them had just told, and not even paying attention to some random guy jogging by?
The truth is, God is pretty much the only one watching us all the time. Sometimes He probably has a good laugh over our actions. Other times all He can do is cry.
Bottom line: next time you’re feeling way too self-conscious, just remember that nobody really cares about you. Wait a minute—that didn’t come out the way I meant it . . .
*Barnyard animals have lots of time on their hands.