4 min read

The Gap Between the Real You and the Performative You

Meeting with _____ starting in 5 minutes.

Another meeting...better turn up!

You shudder. You've already had five one-on-one conversations over Zoom. They weren't bad conversations. They were just, well, conversations.

You exchanged...information. At times, you had those slightly dissociative experiences, those out-of-body moments where it feels like you're just regurgitating the same spiel about your 'story' – that neat narrative with an unimpeachable arc that definitively shows why you are where you are. That there were no mistakes, no detours. And if there were, they were just 'opportunities' that your short-sighted past self wasn't able to identify.

You wonder: Is that what a TED talk boils down to? Have you just going on some TED-ly tour all day?

Sixth stop coming up.

You look up to your monitor's soft, orangey glow. Orange because your designer friend suggested you download that program that auto-adjusts your computer's display to the time of day. It's supposed to offer a functional respite for your eyes; instead it's lulling you into a semi-conscious daze that makes it difficult to discern whether you're sleeping awake or awake sleeping.  

You start the Zoom meeting with a mixture of dread and determination. This is what you've signed up for! Also, why did you do this to yourself? Oh right, the FOMO. You only have so long until the clock runs down and you'll have missed that connection that would've uplifted you out of your misery and helped you realize you weren't as alone as you thought you were.

______ has entered the room.

You brace yourself to admit them into your room, this little piece of real estate you've been given in the metaverse. It's not much – it also expires every 40 minutes – but hey, it's yours.

You click 'admit.'

Shit, are you not frowning. Smile, be energetic. Be memorable. That's what this person wants, right? Not another sad, insecure person who's monotonous and gets right down to business. Show them that brand-new, sparkling linen shirt that you bought for some inordinate price.

Wait, linen shirts aren't supposed to sparkle. Did that shopkeeper fleece you? Damn, now you look like a schmuck. This person will definitely see right through your fake linen shirt that's sparkling because...why?

Maybe you could joke about it. Yeah, cut the tension. Say you just realized your shirt's a fake, because you kinda just did. Or wait, but this person's been super successful. Also, you're trying to recruit them. To woo them. How many successful people have been wooed by a self-effacing comment? Maybe there's an HBR article by some organizational psychologist about that. That's something an organizational psychologist would care about.

You go with the same joke you used in the last call about how you discovered a new virtual background that makes it look like a cat is eating your face. Predictably, the person chuckles. You can't be sure whether it's arising from sincerity or pity. Still, you endure and move ahead with the same conversational template that's proven to be at least moderately successful: ask the person about themselves and what they do (showing your courteousness), wait patiently until half-time to get to your turn, hastily exchange information and a desire to follow up at the final minute, and then end the meeting.

Another day, another meeting. That was six new people you added to your rolodex. You try to recall the individual conversations and realize they all kind of blended together because, well, you followed that tried-and-tested template.

And yet, there's a niggling voice at the back of your head. Because you know.

There's a GAP.  

There's that yawning gap between what you're delivering to others – and how you're actually experiencing life. You're not showing people the real you – you're showing them the performative you. The curated you. The you that, once the curtains are pulled, could crumble into a heap of yuck. And even if people enjoyed talking with you, you can't be sure they're choosing you.

It's no surprise that loneliness and insecurity follow. You keep falling back on old emotional patterns that you learned to keep others happy, all the while forgetting that people don't want the performative version of you.

They want the whole you.

Social media is already full of enough sad, lonely people pretending they're okay and perfectly fine attention-seeker pretending to be sad.

What if we could change the context by which you meet others? One by which you could feel safe enough to be you – the whole you – that likes to make-believe to be an astronaut terraforming Mars?