"Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I'm spent. I have spent the entirety of my life being "amazing." My modus operandi has long been going above and beyond, being awe-inspiring, doing the most, etc. So long as I can remember I have been performing. Maybe it's a caricature. Maybe it's a program. Maybe it's a life stoked in expectations, real, perceived, projected, and internalized that has run rampant. I have been putting on a show. I have been entertaining. I have been portraying the character that has been expected of me, or rather who I have thought I'm supposed to be. I am a person simultaneously whole and categorically broken. I am a soul betwixt and between worlds warped by social pressures, entrenched in a constant battle to be worthy, emboldened by a yearn to be enough. This strive to prove my brilliance, my value, my humanity is seemingly neverending. The funny thing is I am acutely aware that I am invaluable, priceless, and precious. The cognitive dissonance abounds.
Do you know what it's like to always feel the need to be "on." To be put together, to be perfect, to be authentic, to be present, to be a fixer, to be stellar, to be, to be, to be ... to be everything to everyone, at all at once. To be for others but never for yourself. To be or not to be. To be. To be genius, funny, compassionate, brave, resilient, capable, productive, supportive, and, and, and ... It's a lot. It's too much. It's not enough. It's unrealistic, and yet its my reality, and then again it doesn't have to be. I have played this part for so long that there's no distinction between who I actually am, and who I pretend to be. I'm pretending to not be everything because that is who I have been typecast as, and who I've chosen to be. I'm ready to retire, to take a bow, and to rest. To no longer be good at everything, to no longer be good, to no longer be for others but for me, and me alone. I'm ready to be regular, mundane, mediocre. I'm ready to be meh, just okay, or quite alright. I'm ready to be, and to not have to try to be.
How much of our lives is performative? Adulthood is learning to be behave (act) in public, simply put. Most of us play our parts particular in work or education, and when we return to the safety of our homes, backstage, we take off our costumes and rest. What happens when our costumes don't come off? Who are when we they can't come off? How does becoming the character we portray to the world fuse and/or distort who we are? There are so many times where we have to comport ourselves, to put up a front, to manage all that we are for others. Whether that expectation is real or socially constructed is moot because if it's real for us, that makes it real. Sometimes we get so used to performing that it threatens to overwrite our norm. We do it automatically, without thought, and without consideration to its implications for us. Performance is a defense mechanism to prevent others from seeing us as we are. What we are afraid of? Who are fearing? Why are we scared? Maybe playing someone else let's us be who we think others want us to be, a better alternative to us. In the trepidation of being ourselves, we lose ourselves, and that is the most terrifying thing the world over.
We have to set boundaries. We have to let our behind-the-scenes become the norm. We have to be real people instead of the characters we play in other people's lives. Every single person we interact with has a different version of us that lives within them. The way that other people experience us varies - drastically. When we repeatedly play a part whether that be one of support, antagonism, comedy, etc. that is who we become, at least to them in their minds. We create trouble for ourselves when we let other people's machinations of who we are become who we show up as. The imaginations of others do not get to dictate our actualities, and yet still, our cognizance of them is critical to our self-understanding. Setting boundaries let's us distance from others, and externalize their opinions of who we are. Not everyone gets to have access to us, to ask of us, to demand pieces of us. Our greatest defense against overextending ourselves is being thoughtful in how much we give of us. People will survive, things will go alright, and the world will continue to turn even when we say no, set limits, and don't perform perfectly. We do not have to be everything for anyone. That's unfair and unrealistic. We have to be enough for ourselves. We are, but do we recognize that over and over again?
Not everyone deserves a performance from us; and more importantly not everyone needs our masks. So many times we fall into our roles instead of figuring out who we need to be, and more often than not, who we are is more than right for the part. People want us, unfiltered, unadulterated, and unleashed - that's when we're at our genuine best. Give the people what they want. Give yourself what you need. Give what you're able to of you, but save the best of you for you. We need the effort, energy, and time we put into putting on a show for others to be the person we need for us. We have to give our best to our maintenance, to our sanity, to our humanity, before we give anything to others. When we give the entirety of ourselves to others, it leaves nothing of ourselves for us. Give to you, early, often, generously, and liberally. All those who are beneficiaries of us will reap the dividends. When we are rested, well, and whole we can parcel out what we can to others. We cannot, and should not perform endlessly. No performance can ever be as moving as our living truth. X