I delivered my Spotlight after hiking five miles uphill. I was trying to pay my oxygen debt, dreading whether I had a blister and yearning to eat the tortilla I held in my right hand. Regardless, I gave a Spotlight to a group I had met 48 hours ago. It was still pretty great.
As frosh dorms and clubs begin doing Spotlights, here’s why you should participate in this illuminating tradition:
1. They save you from yourself.
College is the time to broaden your horizons. — My dad
Remember, everyone is a door to another world. — My mom
You have to make 50 friends this year, or I’ll worry you’re socially deficient. — My sister
Coming into college, I had a fresh start. I told myself I would put all these maxims, even my sister’s, into action. But the truth is, I was lying to myself: Part of me was firmly rooted in the belief that I have a “type” when it comes to friends and that, at the end of the day, not all people have the potential to be “my people.”
As a result, when I thought I had everyone all figured out on the first day of SPOT, I was in for a surprise. Without going into detail, the first Spotlight was amazing, enlightening and disarming. Over the course of the week, I realized that, when laid out against someone’s story, all the judgments we make on all levels of consciousness, using the minutest of details, get drawn sharply into perspective. Spotlights force you to give new people a fair shot by painting a full picture of them, full of flaws and charms. You’re forced to look beyond their clothes, words, or personality and dissolve, or at least modify, your presumptions.
2. They’re really awkward and unnatural.
At first, I was struck by how contrived Spotlights seemed. Why should I pour my guts out to a group of relative strangers? And what qualifies me to be privy to someone’s life story after knowing them for approximately 12 hours? These questions are even more relevant to Spotlights outside of SPOT, in dorm or student organization settings, because these settings are so much larger, not subject to the bonding black magic of the wilderness, and friendships there are still a little tentative, at least for me.
The funny thing is, it’s almost easier to get deep with people you don’t know well or who aren’t your best friends for life. You go from zero to 100 on your own terms, without the shadow of the persona you’ve developed around other friends looming overhead. You have no expectations to meet. You get a fresh start and you get it fast. Likewise, the knowledge that everyone has been or will be this vulnerable with you at some point is strangely comforting. At Stanford, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the person you see on the surface, on their immaculate resume, but Spotlights ensure that you see the human being lurking beneath, with their own set of failures and hopes and awesome paradigms.
3. You do away with small-talk.
A practical advantage of listening to or doing a Spotlight is that you can swiftly escape the realm of small talk, the friendzone of the friendzone. No one cares about which dorm you’re living in more than they care about, say, how you got super into ping-pong or overcame a great fear. When you reveal the grisly and great details of your life, you can engage in conversations that are meaningful, deep and maybe even both. It’s hard to describe just how having these chats (or three-hour debates, as happened after my Spotlight) can leave you feeling full and wholesome. It was great to talk about the things I knew and loved before college, especially when being here sometimes makes me feel like I don’t understand anything ever.
4. The time is now.
As mentioned, college is super confusing, most of all because you’re trying to hold on to who you are while also growing in ways you can’t even keep track of. Giving a Spotlight not only puts you out there for others to get to know but also involves a heap of self-reflection. Most people come away from their Spotlights feeling like they haven’t even covered a fraction of what they planned on sharing. However, just the fact that you planned, that you thought about how you want to tell your story, is valuable during this transition. Spotlights force you to think about where you’re coming from and where you’re going at a time when things can feel too overwhelming to pause and reflect.
5. It helps you practice the lucrative yet elusive #selfcare.
As uninteresting and dull as you think your life is, I guarantee I thought mine was more so. But when you think back on your life and share it with others, you’re a lot more complex than you probably ever realized. Spotlights are a kudos you give to your soul. There’s more in you than you think. Flaunt it, and love it.
Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.