The empty seats at the table filled up with people I didn’t know. The lady next to me struck up a conversation and as the usual questions went back and forth, I learned that she had studied drama at university. Since she raised the subject, I mentioned that I had enjoyed being involved in a local musical society. She wanted to know what parts I had played. We talked about spotlights and becoming someone else on stage, and then dinner came and the conversation widened to include other people and topics. It wasn’t until later that someone told me, “She was on the West End.”
There I was, reminiscing about my local dramatics with a woman who had been a professional actress in London. But she was so nice about it, so interested. She had kept the questions coming, and kept the spotlight on me. She could have shut me down at any moment with a simple revelation of her past, topped every story I had, and impressed me immensely in the process. Instead, she chose to listen, and listen well. Her questions showed that she was really paying attention, that she cared about the things I had done, even when they couldn’t hold a candle to her own accomplishments.
She may not have tried to impress me, but I’m still impressed. By her achievements, certainly, but even more by her humility in not getting around to mentioning them. Her approach to conversation was completely unselfish. She wasn’t networking or trying to promote herself; she was genuinely interested in someone else’s story—in this case my own, but I’m confident it would have been the same if anyone else had been sitting in my seat. I didn’t find out many details about the actress, but I did find out what it looks like to step aside and put the spotlight on someone else.