June 28, 2022

Performing vs Living Life Fully

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When we are in performance mode we expect to be assessed, evaluated and we seek to impress. There are times when we need to be in performance mode but what if that's how we approach our whole life? We end up exhausted and our identities fuse with the roles we play.

In this bonus episode I reflect about what happens when we don't get out of "performance mode" and end up never really LIVING our life as our full, human, imperfect and work-in-progress selves.

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When we cannot get out of that performance mode in our life, what's at stake? We lose touch with who we are apart from all of these tasks that we need to do.

Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax, and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hi, and welcome to another Ann Chat. So, today I wanted to muse about the question of whether we are performing or living our life. Okay, so, performing versus living. Okay, so, what do I mean by that? Let me start with a story. So, in my twenties, during the time when a lot of my friends were getting married. I had a few opportunities to, you know, give speeches. You know, when my close friends were getting married, I was often the one tapped to go and say something during the reception, right – about the bride.

Maybe it's because I have a gift of the gab, you know? I enjoy telling stories. So, here's the thing I noticed; every time I had this job to do right – which was that at a certain point of the reception, I had to go up to the podium, go on stage and deliver this speech.

So, here in Singapore, where I am – and often the wedding reception; especially if it's a Chinese wedding reception, there are multiple courses. And when we plan a wedding reception, in terms of the sequence of events, it's often tacked to, you know, at which dish. So, is it at the appetizer dish?

You know, something happens and then maybe the second and then the third dish. So, I think usually when it comes to my turn to give a speech, it's probably around the time of the third dish – you know, second or third dish, out of maybe eight dishes. Okay, so, eight servings. And here's the thing – I actually love the first course of cold cuts and appetizers.

But I would never have any appetite to eat until I've done my job, right. I mean, I know that in a while I have to go up on stage and I need to deliver the speech. There's a performance I need to do, you know, in a way. And there's no appetite.

In fact, I usually will feel know a little bit queasy. Maybe it's a bit of the butterflies that we feel before you need to go on stage. Little nervous. There's all this pent-up energy, right. And then I go up and I give this speech. And then as soon as I come back down to my table and I sit down, I will just feel so hungry.

And I'm just so happy that my job is done. The performance, you know, it's over and I can eat. And it's almost like my body, you know, at that point, can relax – can relax and can tell me that, you know, it's time to eat. So, it got me thinking – I mean, not back then, but recently when I'm musing about how we live our life – how often do I live my life like I have a performance to do?

And therefore, you know, I can't really relax. I can't really eat. I can't rest and digest. How often do I feel like I have to wait until this is done before I can really breathe again, before I can eat, before I can, you know, live my real life – my real life in a sense where I'm not performing for an audience, so to speak, but I can just be myself.

Now, don't get me wrong – I'm not saying that having to perform is a bad thing. I think there are times and places for that. And I actually enjoy, you know, sometimes putting up performances. In fact, what I'm doing right now – making this video – in some sense is a performance, right?

I mean, there's a role I'm playing, there's a task that I'm playing. And all my attention is focused on this right now. Everything else kind of has to wait. That's a certain standard that I want to be able to reach when I'm performing, because you know, I care about delivering quality. I care that people will find it a pleasant experience of watching this video. But the zone that I am I'm in right now – I don't want this to be 24/7.

I want to be able to, at the end of this video, be able to turn off this camera and not worry about, you know, how messy my hair is. Whether, yeah, I'm slouching – you know, all that. I want to be able to be unselfconscious, right. Well, more unselfconscious than when I am in performance mode.

But here's the thing, I think that a lot of time, even when no one is watching – like even when I'm not really on stage or even when the camera's not on, I live my life like I have to impress somebody. I have a role that I feel I need to play – whether it's good daughter, good daughter-in-law, good sister-in-law, good sister.

Somebody who has now, maybe a bit of a public presence. You know, someone who gives talks on faith formation, on drawing closer to God. I have a public persona. Even in my private personal life, even in my family dynamics, even maybe with my spouse – with my husband, you know? Is there a good wife role that I need to play, that I subconsciously get myself geared up to play?

Like, I'm going to be evaluated for how good or poor a wife I am. And maybe I have a list in my mind, a script that I've inherited from my growing up years – maybe from family, from what I learned in school about what it means to be a good wife; what it means to be a successful woman that can have it all, do it all.

I hate that so much, by the way. I mean that had been indoctrinated into me, I think, for a long time. And it's only more recently that I realized how damaging that narrative, that script is for everyone in general. But I think especially for women who think that the good life is one where we can have a successful career, you know, maybe be married, be a mother and succeeded on all fronts.

Because often that means that we have to be in performance mode all the time, right? I mean, we have to be impressing someone all the time. Men are not spared this either, right? Maybe it's just different. The script is different, perhaps if you're a guy – if you're a man. But it's the same thing.

What happens when something changes in your life? So, for example, for men in our society, the worth or value that they put on the table is often tagged to their career, right? Your career – how much money you're earning, how successful you're doing at work. So, is that who you become? Do you become – does your identity become married to your job – the role that you play at work?

And if it is, has it occurred to you how difficult it is for other people – maybe even the close ones around you – to be around you, because they have to be in relationship with a role. Now, with someone who is maybe, I don't know – a teacher, someone who is a CEO, director – you know, whatever it is. That role that has become your identity, that maybe even when you come home and, you know, it's time to just be yourself and be in relationship with your spouse, with your children.

You're still operating, like, you know, teacher, like boss, like director, like preacher – I don't know – whatever that is. Speaking for myself, and all my memories of growing up as a child, and now as a wife – I don't enjoy that; when the people in my life, when the men in my life, when my father and my husband come home and cannot snap out of that performance mode – that role that they have to play.

I think we all instinctively, intuitively long to relate to one another just as who we are as human beings, you know? There is an essence deeper, more precious than any role we can play. And when we cannot get out of that performance mode in our life, what's at stake?

We lose touch with who we are, apart from all of these tasks that we need to do. We constantly strive. And not just for ourselves, we often will end up wanting the people around us – the people we care about – to strive. Strive for what? Strive according to some script that we have inherited, that we often are not even fully aware that we are operating out of. A script that tells us what it means to be successful, to be praise-worthy, to be honourable, to be powerful.

And this script – this script when we live out of it unaware, it chokes out the life out of us. It chokes the life out of our relationships. It chokes the life out of our families, out of our children, out of our marriages, out of the life in our communities that we belong to. Because everything becomes about performance.

Here, I mean, where we're recording this, it's actually at the tail end of the Chinese New Year period, the Lunar New Year celebrations. Right, and when I was growing up, I always have mixed feelings about festive seasons, you know? I mean, there are positive aspects to it, there are parts that I enjoy.

But there's always this part that I felt uncomfortable with – which is that it's so important to put up a happy face, to show up – you know as our best selves, of course. To only say happy things, recount happy memories during this new year season. Because it's considered to be inauspicious – you know, inauspicious, if we are talking about negative things and sad things.

So, we don't talk about, you know, things that will, you know – in a more, I guess, the superstitious kind of mindset – that will set a bad precedent for the rest of the year. But during this time, and we meet up with relatives and people that maybe we don't often meet.

It also often feels like a time where we have to report how well we've been doing in life, because people will ask about a work, about our marital status about, you know, if you're a student, how they're doing in school. Or if you're a parent, how your kids are doing in school and what schools they're attending and so on and so forth.

And while this can be stressful – I mean, it often is, because it's a period of time where we have to actually report – kind of like give a report on how well they're doing. The truth is – and I've been reflecting – the truth is, outside of this period of time, this festive season, where we often have to talk about it – the truth is that many of us don't live very differently.

We are constantly striving to achieve the scores that we can later – you know, when people ask about it, or even when people don't ask about it, we'd like to be able to show how well we're doing.

And the irony is this tendency to perform – it's not just confined to worldly pursuits. You know, when I say world pursuits, kind of like where let's say, you're after a promotion at work and you want to be able – you know, you want to compete, you have to compete.

And so, you compete with your colleagues, you know – to outshine them. So, you will get that promotion. So, that you would get that grace. I speak as a person of faith. And my work actually, often, is about the spiritual life. And you would think – you'd think that the spiritual life and the life of faith is about being real, being authentic.

It's about cultivating awareness and, you know, an intimacy with the divine – with God, learning to love our neighbour as ourselves. You think that in this realm, we can escape or maybe not fall into that trap of performance, rather than living – because the spiritual life is really about stripping away the illusions and being true, right?

Being our true selves and relating to one another as true selves authentically, deeply. But here's the thing – very often, even among people who are starting to take a spiritual life seriously, or have already been taking the spiritual life seriously, or the faith spiritually – I say, or faith, because not everyone who takes their faith spiritually is necessarily taking the spiritual life seriously.

Because there was a way – especially, particularly in my tradition – where people can understand having serious faith as a matter of practices that can be done and seen externally, and not so much yet about cultivating an interior life or interior disposition, or inner transformation – which is what the spiritual life is actually about.

But I'd say, even in both cases, whether it's a matter of external practices that can be seen, and we think there are check boxes that we can check off – and therefore perform and be a "good" Christian, you know, from, let's say a good Catholic – someone that people will go, oh, very good – look at her. She is, you know, she takes her faith seriously.

She, you know, she checks all the boxes for what a good orthodox Catholic should be. And I'm saying this for myself – to take myself a little less seriously because I can tell you, for almost my whole life, that was the person I've been trying to be. Okay, that's the person – I've been that person that – without me, even fully knowing the script I have is; I need to be like, you know, scoring A+ when it comes to my faith because I take my faith seriously.

So, let me find out what it is to – what I need to believe, what I need to do, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability so that I can get an A+ on the report. Now, even when my focus shifted more interior, that means I began to understand that there's a spiritual journey to this – there's an interior transformation, not just the external doing that is important.

I couldn't help myself. I still went into performance mode. Right, my pursuit of holiness, my pursuit of wanting to surrender fully to God – all these are good things, all these are wonderful things – but I didn't know. I didn't know what it meant to be real in all this, because all I knew – the only script I knew in my life was to perform –

– was to impress, was to strive to impress. And in this case was a striving to impress? Let's not even just talk about other people. Maybe there's a bit of that, you know, I'll be honest enough to say, a lot of my self-worth has always relied on the affirmations that I can receive from the people that matter to me.

Okay, so, there's some level of performing for others. But I was performing for God as well. And there was a time when I thought that was a wonderful thing – to perform for God. That, you know, it was striving about performing before God and only caring about what He thinks and not what anybody else thinks.

But here's the thing – let's go back to the mindset, the "heart-set". Okay, the way our whole body feels when we are in performance mode. I'm striving to impress. I'm striving to gain approval. I am not at rest. I cannot just be. I cannot believe that if I fail in this performance when I'm switched off, when I'm in a mess, when I am not giving my best, when my worst come out – that I can still be held and loved completely – that I can just be myself.

What that means is, that I had pursued even my spiritual life in a way that is antithetical to me being human and living my life. So, that's performance, right? That's performing. It's very tiring. It's very tiring when we're performing your whole life. And sometimes this doesn't catch up to us until we're a lot older.

We can be doing good, meaningful things in performance mode. And one day it's going to catch up with us. Our bodies may not be able to hold up or the most important relationships in our life will break down to a point where it's hard to salvage. And it's sad, isn't it? – If we have to wait till that point to realize that we have not been living our life. But a lot of times it's those crisis points that give us an opportunity to turn around and ask ourselves, is this the life I want? Am I living the life that I want? Or am I just performing?

And if I'm performing, is it worth it? Are the accolades or the praise or the good name that I can keep up for myself, whatever influence I may win for myself – whatever getting ahead may mean to me, that matters to me in my life. Right, all of that striving for more, for a better performance – will it matter when I'm alone? Will it matter when I'm ill and sick?

Will it matter when I'm on my deathbed – which will inevitably come. Would that performance have mattered? Or would I have felt that I've lived my life and known what it means to be in progress, to be incomplete.

But in a very deep way to know what it means to experience wholeness, or at least grow in wholeness, authenticity. To know that the relationships I have, the people who love me, they know me for me, and they may struggle with my shortcomings, but they have come to accept me for me.

And, you know, they love me for me. They like me for me, even if there are times that they can't stand me. And vice versa – you know, that the people that I care about, there are times I can't stand them and there are times I don't like them. But in a deeper way, I still love them. And I still choose – I still like them.

I like them for the wonderful qualities they have, and I dislike them sometimes, maybe for the qualities grate on me. But I'm in relationship with them. And it's so wonderful to have friends like that. It's so wonderful to be with your family like that. You're not constantly being scrutinized and evaluated for how good a performance you're giving.

But you can be real, where you can have moments where you're giving, you know, the equivalent of, you know, an incredible speech on stage or an incredible performance on stage, and everyone can applaud you for that. But they're also moments in your life when you can fall flat on your face, you know, show up dishevelled and be comfortable because you're okay with being you.

And you're okay with acknowledging when people catch you in your off moments – to say yes, that is me. The real me is not just the me that you see on camera, on stage, you know, giving a performance. I am in a messy reality, trying to figure things out. I'm in progress. I'm not perfect.

You know, but I can love because love is being real and living life, and not just performing. So, I hope that this musing about whether you're performing or living in life – it'll give you something to think about the way that you're currently living your life.

When are the times, or how much of your life can you feel that you can really breathe? Where you can really just chill and relax and be. That you don't have to try and impress. How often do you allow yourself to be driven to perform? Because sometimes, yes, there are people who expect performance from us.

Sometimes, a lot of times – I'll say even a lot of times – without them realizing, they may say that they're not doing it, but the way that they relate to us, it makes us feel like we have to meet certain expectations. But even then, we have a choice. And if we build up our interior resilience, if we become more whole, and we have a strong, inner core – a confidence about who I am; not having to perform, but just who I am – the more I can live for myself and not perform.

Get out of the script that requires me to perform, the more resilient I become, even to the external expectations that people have of me. So, if you are desiring a life that has depth and meaning – a life that allows you to discover who you really are, and to live out that life true to who you are.

You're going to have to be able to identify and tell the difference between performance and living. And I hope that you will recognize that the inner longing in your heart is for life – life in its full spectrum, of joy and sorrow, beauty, as well as the lack of beauty, of life and death. Life, not performance. God bless. And I hope this will hold you til our next Ann Chat.

[00:27:35] CONCLUSION
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin. 

The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingmepodcast.com and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!