For most of my adult life, I have had a fear of joining. I always wanted to get involved in one way or another, so I joined a club or an organization. I attended a meeting or two then abruptly stopped going. I found these great organizations and clubs, but when I showed up alone, the whole idea seemed so much more daunting and I’d essentially run away. I think for most people, the idea of doing something alone is terrifying, so they avoid situations that will put them in that place. For me, this fear often stems from having no one to talk to or not knowing what to talk about – and what I dread the most is standing in a corner, by myself, wondering what everyone else is thinking of me. More often than not I let this fear talk me out of what could have been amazing opportunities.
In 2015 the Journal of Consumer Research published Inhibited from Bowling Alone by Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton. The article discussed the idea that people are less likely to engage in popular activities if they are alone. The study showed people often believe they won’t have as much fun alone as they would with a friend. However, the data from the study showed people enjoyed participating in these activities just as much alone as with a friend. The study also showed people are more concerned with public opinion, “imagining that others are shining a brighter ‘spotlight’ on them than they actually do.” – WHOA. This is exactly how I feel when I am standing in that corner alone. I see myself as center stage with a big ol’ spotlight right on me, primed to be judged by the public.
Appropriately named, “The Spotlight Effect” was coined in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2000. This study determined people often believe they stand out more than they actually do, and as a result they attempt to adjust to this perceived perspective of others. Or, in my case, I simply remove myself from the situation by complete avoidance. But the truth is, no one is really passing judgement, we just think they are. And, because of that misguided belief this stigma has falsely promoted an inhibition that can hamper the potential for growth.
These studies didn’t neutralize my fear of joining, however I do feel encouraged because they brought to light the social stigma surrounding the idea of doing something by yourself. I have worked hard this past season to overcome my fear by getting involved and staying involved. I’ve joined community organizations; I’ve signed up to volunteer, participate, network, and lead – all of which have opened door after door of opportunity. If you’re like me and have allowed this stigma to interfere with your life, then I challenge you to put your fear of “being in the spotlight” to the side, and allow yourself to experience more. Join a professional networking group, volunteer, or take on a leadership role in the community. If that’s overwhelming try going out to the movies, a play, or even a meal by yourself. I think you will be surprised at how much you enjoy it.
About the Author
+Michelle Genova is a consultant at Morrison, providing business valuations, business planning (including budgeting, cash flow forecasting, and strategic planning), feasibility studies, recruitment, interim executive CFO services, competitive grant writing and special projects that don't fit into any conventional category. You can contact Michelle directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at 530-893-4764 ext. 209.