Performing or Being?

You walk into a gathering of strangers and you are outside the comfort of your own skin: naked and emotionally exposed. You stand there thinking, “I need to talk to someone…just standing here is embarrassing.” Or maybe, “Dear heavens above…please, everyone just ignore me” and then you randomly and repetitively swipe your phone to pose as occupied. In either case, you know what happens next because it always happens—some insensitive bloke invades you. On a lucky day, it’s your barber or cosmetician—they’re the best because they already know all your silent soul-borne flaws; but, that’s not today. Today, it’s the extravert across the hall who is out to prove himself. He steps into your space, leans in for the kill and asks the question you’ve successfully avoided to this point.

Your mind locks up, then spins; your adrenaline rushes; you look for the closest escape route, but the self-consumed beast is standing between you and it—there is no way out. 

You’re forced to converse! You reach into the depths of your psyche and pull out a simple, “Fine.” That’s all you can squeeze out before the next round of discomfort kicks in. “Come on!” you tell yourself… "You’re an adult. Say something. Carry on a conversation.”  At this point, you’re forced with a decision: perform or be.

Every one gets to make this decision: perform or be. Am I going to perform so that the conversation becomes somethinganything but awkward? Or, am I going to “be” and embrace the awkwardness of “being” and realize that not every interaction has to be animated? Will I result to excessive laughter? A higher pitched voice and lots of vocal dynamics? Do I begin to stare off into middle distance to make the person uncomfortable? Do I begin sneezing so I can excuse myself? Or do I say, “Fine” and let the discomfort work itself out?

Why should you feel compelled to be a good fit for everyone you meet? What’s wrong with taking the social cue on an awkward conversation and letting it fail? Everyone deserves honor: we can usually honor any reasonable person with respectful conversation; but, not every new interaction should yield a life-long friend. It’s unrealistic. No individual can have everyone as his or her friend, despite the in-your-face flaunts of social media.

Analyze yourself and remember: performance is our default response for not “being.”  We perform to protect ourselves.  We adopt a lifestyle, a personality, a type of humor to see if it helps us fit socially, then we either resolve back to who we are or our performance becomes us. When we are secure in who we are, performance is elective. When we don’t know who we are, performance is prescriptive. 


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