Day 165: 2 Self Portraits

You’re about to go on an important job interview. Or maybe you’re about to go on a first date. Or maybe you’re in a social setting where you’ll be surrounded by new people. Whatever the case, what is the most common piece of advice that many of us receive for these kinds of situations? You’re told to put your best self forward. You’re told to be on your best behavior. And first impressions really do matter, but is this necessarily the best advice?

Are You Putting on a Performance?

How many times have you been asked how you are doing and you simply respond by saying that you’re fine? It’s the generic, automatic reply and it may not accurately represent how you are actually feeling. Maybe you’re having a crummy day. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed from work. But if someone asks, you’re just “fine.”

This sense of displaying your best self on the surface is akin to wearing a mask. Even if you’re feeling down inside, you put on that smile on the outside. Even when we’re not interacting in person, we tend to develop this habit. You have a social media persona that represents all your happy moments and your best self, but that’s only a part of who you are and what you feel. The negative aspects get bottled up.

I’m reminded of individuals like Chris Farley and Robin Williams. They felt obligated to put on this performance for the rest of us to see, because we’ve come to expect them to be happy and animated all the time. As a result, even though they were among good company, they may have felt very alone in the world, as if there was no one out there to help them.

Feeling Weak and Vulnerable

The older image of what it meant to be a man was to be macho and to never show weakness. A real man doesn’t cry. A real man doesn’t feel pain. A real man displays his strength, because he can’t possibly let anyone see or know his weakness. This perspective is slowly starting to fade and it’s becoming more socially acceptable for a man to be “sensitive,” but it’s still not there yet.

And we need to get there.

It needs to be okay to feel weak. It needs to be okay to feel vulnerable. It needs to be okay to seek comfort. I’m not saying that we should all be Debbie Downers with one another. What I am saying is that we might need to alleviate some of the social pressure.

While you should aspire to improve yourself, you don’t have to aspire to be better than everyone else. While you should aspire to be your best self, you shouldn’t feel like you have to be your best self all the time. It’s far too exhausting and overwhelming.

Love and Be Loved

Maybe it’s because I’m expecting our first child to arrive any day now. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling the pressure of providing for this family and being the best dad that I can possibly be. Maybe it’s because working from home as a freelance writer, I have my share of moments of feeling alone.

What I can say is the constant pressure of putting on that positive performance is mentally draining and psychologically damaging in the long run. And that’s why having loved ones that truly care about you (and who you truly care about too) is so important. Share in your joys, console one another in times of hardship. Love others and don’t be afraid to receive some love back.