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There is no audience

A recent social media posting that received a lot of attention on the internet:

“Years ago, when I was in my 20s, a bold and artistically daring older friend who has since passed on gave me what I often think was the best advice I have ever gotten. I was worrying what people would think of a decision I had made, and she said, “Amanda, There is no audience.”

– Amanda Fortini

I love this. A whole lot. And I agree with Amanda Fortini:

It’s probably some of the best advice a person can receive, particularly if it’s believed and adopted.

It can be life-changing.

The Spotlight Effect – the false belief that people are paying more attention to you than they ever really are – can be crippling to those who assume there is an audience and worry about what that audience might be thinking. It prevents people from being themselves, taking risks, and speaking their minds. It causes people to worry about their physical appearance and appropriate adherence to norms and traditions.

Worst of all, it steals a person’s precious time and limited bandwidth.

But Fortini’s “bold and artistically daring older friend” was right:

There is no audience. No one is paying attention. No one is thinking anything. No one is even looking.

Once people accept and believe this, they are free to be themselves.

I don’t think it happens all too often in this world. I suspect that most human beings are trapped by the thought that an audience exists and that they must always perform for it.

What a disaster.

Last week, I asked my students to write a compliment to “someone in the classroom.” I intended for them to compliment their peers, but a few unexpectedly wrote compliments to me.

A few took advantage of the opportunity to offer me a clever backhanded compliment like:

“He has a lot of energy for an ancient man.”

“He tells great stories about how stupid he’s been throughout his life.”

“He only annoys me most of the time.”

I’ve taught them well.

But one of the compliments read:

“Mr. Dicks really and truly doesn’t care what people think about him or say about him.”

It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

While not entirely true, it’s not far from the truth. I’d like people to think and speak well of me – especially those who I respect or admire – but my student is also correct:

If that doesn’t happen, but I know in my heart that I’m doing well, that’s all that really matters to me.

But I also know, like Amanda Fortini’s friend, that there is no audience. Most people aren’t thinking or speaking about me at all.

Therefore, I have nothing to worry about. No need to concern myself with the judgment of others. No need to perform.

There is no audience.

I hope you know and believe this, too, because it makes life so much easier and so much better.