Can I get an egg on that pizza?
Reflections on performative vulnerability
Greetings from Vancouver,
I’m writing this in the basement of my parent’s house. Life has been pleasant recently. LinkedIn gave us a week off last week and I was able to take my parents to a ski resort nearby. I snowboarded 50 km, biked a ton, and celebrated my 26th birthday.
People usually ask what reflections one has on their birthday. For me, it was the idea that “no one cares about you”.
I’ll preface this by saying I feel cared for by the people around me, and yes, this sounds quite pessimistic. Despite that, this belief has been quite liberating. I often think of my actions and decision-making in relation to how others will perceive those actions and decisions. At times, it feels debilitating to move forward because I’m concerned about what people will think of me.
As I have uncovered more about my own Indian-American identity, I’m curious if this comes from there. If I was a confident white dude, would I have these hesitations? Would I care as much of what people thought of me? Unclear.
It’s not a novel thought, but it is one I’m coming back to, which is that most people are too busy thinking about themselves to think about you. Even funnier, they are too busy thinking about what you think of them, then they are thinking of you.
Reminding myself of this truth has brought me peace, and paradoxically has allowed me to focus my energy on caring about others. If my mind is not occupied caring what you think of me, I can think and care about you.
Anyways, I wanted to give a few quick updates and jump into this week’s newsletter:
This Thursday, Across The Lines will be hosting an Instagram Live with our friend Laura Lu. We’ll be speaking about mental health in the Asian American (& Canadian) community. Check out our insta page for more info (link)
Angie and I have been brainstorming fun ways to support our podcast audience. Despite our own ideas, we’d love to hear some feedback from you. Fill out the following form if you want to provide some valuable feedback (link)
Another one of the reflections I’ve had over the past few weeks is on the topic of performative vulnerability. It’s admittedly not a commonly used word in my vocabulary. I’m thinking it should be moving forward.
A few nights ago a friend and I were talking about being vulnerable. It’s considered a good thing to be open and honest, to share your feelings, and to be vulnerable — especially for men who have struggled for generations to do so. I mean Brené Brown’s been telling us to do so for years, right?
But what if the only reason you are opening up is to have others respect and like you more? Is that still considered a good thing? I’ve found myself grappling with this question and I’m confused about how I feel about it. Join me as I explore this concept further. Maybe at the end, I’ll have a better idea if I’m being an asshole or not :)
So, where you from?
I was on a date in San Francisco on a warm October evening in 2019. I was at one of my favorite places in Hayes Valley at a restaurant called A Mano. I ordered my favorite dish - the pizza with the egg on it. I forget the name, it was a bit fancier sounding than “the pizza with the egg on it”. My date wasn’t too impressed with the pizza but she did seem to be enjoying my company.
We had a great conversation. She talked about her upbringing in Florida, her life in the Bay Area, and her ambition to move to Argentina and ski in the coming years.
I opened up about my parents, the challenges they faced as immigrants, and how that has shaped my perspective on the world. I spoke about my own challenges with mental health, and how that has inspired me to devote a significant portion of my time supporting men to be more vulnerable and open with their own feelings.
“If men can be more vulnerable we can solve a lot of problems in society, It will help themselves, the women in their lives, and the world”.
We ended up talking for hours. Afterward, I started reflecting on the stories I shared with her. I started to think about the connection we developed. I started to think about the stories I generally share the first time I meet someone…
Life is hard, right?
It dawned on me that I usually have the same “script” when meeting someone new. This could be romantic or business relationships. I tend to speak about the struggle my parents have faced. I speak about my own insecurities as a child. I share my ambition of trying to help men be more open. To someone else, this can lead to a meaningful conversation - and ideally, have them open up themselves. I’ve been called vulnerable before and been admired for doing so.
But at what point does sharing the same set of “vulnerable” stories actually end up being vulnerable? At what point are you simply performing?
I realized at that moment that the stories I was sharing were not that vulnerable for me. To the person sitting across the table from me, these stories may come across as raw and authentic. For me, because I repeated it so many times, it felt like I was talking about what I ate for breakfast.
It’s tough, because by sharing these stories people around you feel more comfortable to open up themselves. That’s why I tell myself that what I’m doing isn’t necessarily bad - as it often opens up the dialogue and leads to a positive connection. Although, I thought I could still improve how I am sharing these stories, and check myself with the state of mind I’m in when I’m doing so.
Performative vs Authentic Vulnerability
Today, society values people that are vulnerable, especially on social media. I had a friend share that she’s in a “vulnerability competition” to see who can be the most open and transparent about their lives on a panel she was attending!
The foundation for these behaviors come from a genuine place, but it can leave people feeling spent, and at times not even being authentically vulnerable. I’ve been thinking through this to ensure that when I am opening up, I am not doing it in a way to make people like me; simply performing. Below is a loose framework that I put together to see if I’m being performative or truly authentic.
Am I sharing this in order to be loved?
Am I doing this because it’s the only way to develop a connection?
How quickly in a relationship am I sharing this story?
Am I sharing the same story again and again?
Do I feel fully comfortable sharing this story?
Am I sharing this to create space for others to share?
Can I develop a connection without sharing this?
Have I known this person for a while?
Have I ever shared this story before?
Do I feel uncomfortable sharing this story?
I wanted to start this conversation with myself. I'm still early in this journey, and part of me thinks I’m being a bit too hard on myself. I’m curious what you think. Do you feel this way at times? Do you feel like you’re at times performing? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Till next time,
Tweets I’m Enjoying
A Few Other Links
How to avoid half-heartedness - Bookbar Express
A year of Covid lessons from a monk’s cloistered cell - Financial Times
Hasan Minaj Answers Increasingly Personal Questions - Vanity Fair
Proof of Workout - Balaji Srivanasan
Crazy Norwegians Skiing - Nikolai Schirmer