Last Updated Aug 30, 2011 1:51 PM EDT
When you walk into a networking event, what are you thinking? When you are introduced to someone new, are you trying to remember their name or are you instead thinking of something witty or clever to say to make a good impression? Do you have any fear when you are in a job interview? Are you petrified to give a public speech? Do you resist speaking up in a meeting even if you think you might have something important to share?
I think to some degree, all of us have this fear of constantly being watched, criticized, and judged. It might motivate a few to do their best work, but for most, this haunting belief that we always have to be "on" can be paralyzing. Why take a chance -- even a seemingly small chance -- if you think everyone is watching and ready to judge you? You don't speak up in the meeting. You socialize with colleagues at a networking event instead of connecting with someone new. You resist sharing a good story that highlights your skills as the perfect job candidate. In your effort to look your best, you focus too much on yourself and how others will perceive you instead of your work and what's most important. Nobody performs well under constant scrutiny -- real or imagined.
In fact, psychologists use the term "imaginary audience" to describe this heightened state of vigilance that is especially strong during adolescence. An imaginary audience is this belief that we have a group or followers that are watching, dissecting, and judging our every move. But the keyword here is "imagined."
You are not the center of the universe. Nobody really cares about your every move. Nobody is watching, and if they happen to be, they are far less concerned with what you are doing and much more focused on what YOU are thinking about them. That's the irony of this. You think you are so important that everyone cares what you do, when in fact, everyone is so preoccupied with themselves that they don't even notice or care what you are doing.
And while this realization that you are not the center of everyone's universe may depress you initially, I hope you'll find that it is actually a huge blessing in disguise. Why? It's lets you take chances without fear of judgment. You can raise your hand, speak your mind, share your ideas, and take bold risks without (significant) consequences. And here's the interesting part . . . the second you realize there is no imaginary audience critiquing your every move and the less you care what others think, the more freedom you'll have to do your best work.
Of course, once you start doing your best work, that imaginary audience might not be in your head -- people might then actually start to notice you . . .
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