Why trying to impress other people is actually a good thing

I used to think the ideal goal in life was to reach a place where I no longer cared what other people thought of me. If I didn’t care what people thought, I wouldn’t feel the need to perform different roles for different people based on what I think they like.

We’ve all been there and it is exhausting, right?

The problem with training myself to not care what people think is that it diminishes our childlike desire to be famous among the people we love. Not celebrity fame or fame in the greedy sort of way. I’m talking about that feeling children get when their artwork is hung front and center on the fridge. When they stare at it and truly believe, “Wow, all my family thinks I’m awesome.”

What an innocent and pure feeling, to perform (or make macaroni art) for someone you admire, and for them to admire you right back.

I don’t want to totally stop trying to impress or perform for people because then I’d lose the chance to have that childlike feeling when other people think I’m awesome. But I also don’t want all the exhaustion that comes with being dependent on what people think.

What if there was a happy medium?

I think there is.

Lets begin with one of my favorite stories to tell. As you read, think about how much harder our innocent quest for fame has begun as we get older.

Sharing my Awesomeness with the Church Congregation

I only lasted two years in the church choir before I quit in third grade. The practices were boring AF and all I did during performances was stand in the front row of the risers and sing to a bunch of church people. Since it was a K-8th choir, my little kid voice was totally drowned out by all the big kid voices behind me. I felt like I was just standing there moving my mouth around for theses people because nobody could hear me anyway.

The solos were the only exciting part about the whole thing. But only the big kids got the solo parts. So I was stuck just standing there, moving my mouth around.

However, my whole attitude changed a few days before the upcoming choir concert when I found out my Aunt Kris was coming from out of town and was going to be in the audience.

Now. My Aunt Kris was not just any ordinary Aunt Kris. She was a college basketball star and was all pretty and nice and stuff. Plus, I didn’t get to see her very often, so I was so excited for her arrival.

The only problem was I hadn’t really shown her how talented I was yet. Luckily, the upcoming concert was a prime time to show off my skills.

The night of the concert, I walked single file and took my place right in front, just beaming. This was my time to shine. But after a few songs, I realized no matter how loudly I sung (and I mean LOUDLY — afterwards people next to me complained that their ears hurt from my singing) my voice was never going to stand out enough to impress my Aunt Kris.

In the middle of a song, I considered creating my own impromptu solo, but after realizing there wasn’t an extra microphone on stage, I changed course.

Instead, I took a step forward. And then another step. And another. Soon enough I was at the front of the stage, moving my mouth around for everyone front and center.

And then I started twirling.

I twirled and twirled and bowed and hopped from leg to leg for the whole congregation to see. I was so full of joy. I knew Aunt Kris was somewhere up in the balcony with her bright white teeth smiling down on me.

Then the mean choir lady gripped my arm and drug me back to the risers where there was a Jordin shaped hole right in front. Even though every other choir member glared at me as I took my place, I didn’t feel one speck of embarrassment.

In fact, I began twirling and twisting right in the line. When each song was over I would bow dramatically and mouth the words “thank you” over and over again while blowing kisses at the crowd.

At intermission, I got a very stern talking to from the mean choir lady. I don’t remember caring though. All I could think about was how proud my Aunt Kris must be of me because those twirls were ON POINT.

When did our desire to perform get twisted?

This memory stands in stark contrast to how I feel now, as an adult, when I perform for people. I would be happy to blend right in and thankful for the big kids behind me, drowning out my voice. Not a bone in my body would feel comfortable standing out.

What changed?

I stopped performing with my heart and started performing with my head.

Important note before we move on — when I say “perform” I mean anything I do when I believe people are watching me. Performing doesn’t always require a massive audience. Most of the time we spend performing is during the day-to-day activities when we believe people are observing us.

Performing can be the words we choose in a conversation with our boss, or friend, or someone of the opposite sex. It can be how we compose ourselves when we walk into a room.

The point is, we do hundreds of tiny performances every day.

But as adults, most of us forgot what it is like to perform with our hearts and now we’re performing with our head, overthinking it, and causing a lot of grief for ourselves.

Case in point: Performing for my Aunt Kris was exhilarating as a child. But as an adult, performing wears me out. All the social acrobatics, stress over saying the right words, acting the right way, and looking the right way all the time is so deeply exhausting.

What if the best response to the exhaustion and anxiety caused by the hundreds of performances we do every day isn’t to quit performing all together? What if it was less about shoving down our pure and childlike desire to impress people and more about migrating our desire to impress people back to where it belongs — our heart.

The Difference Between Performing with our Head and Performing with our Heart

Somewhere along the line, our desire to impress people migrates from our hearts to our heads. As it travels upward, it gets continually more stressful, twisted, and exhausting. Here are some key differences:

Preparing to perform with our heart looks like my beaming second grade face as I walked onstage at the beginning of that concert. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I knew I was getting ready to share my awesomeness with the world. Afterward, I felt full and spent at the same time. I couldn’t wait to see the pride in my Aunt Kris’s face when she saw me.

Preparing to perform with our head looks like cloudy, worrisome thoughts. What if I mess up? What if I put myself out there and people actually think I’m a dork? Actually this is stupid, isn’t it? This is totally stupid. Is it too late to fake sick? Afterward, we obsess about how we did. Did I come on too strong? I hope they knew I was only joking and don’t think I’m an arrogant prick. Did they give me a strange look after I said that or was it because of something else?

When I was performing with my heart, I was only imagining my Aunt Kris beaming down at me as I twirled and twirled in center stage. It was blissful and it felt so right to shine at my fullest for my family. Performing with our hearts is free, uninhibited, and pure. “Watch me go” becomes the mantra.

Performing with our head is usually clunky. Sometimes, when we get enough practice at it, our muscle memory takes over and it actually looks like we’re making smooth transitions. But our hearts not in it. There is no authenticity or passion behind it and desperation is the main source of fuel. “Just don’t fail” becomes the mantra.

When my Aunt congratulated me on my performance from the heart, I was able to receive all of it. ALL OF IT. I soaked it in and felt totally awesome about myself. I was able to rejoice that she thought I was so awesome, too. “Everything is awesome! Yay!”

It is hard for us to fully receive compliments after performing from the head because it wasn’t really our true selves that were performing. We usually deflect or deny the compliment either out loud or in our hearts, but it is a far cry from soaking it all in. We might feel relieved that we didn’t make a fool of ourselves, but honestly, relief is probably the best possible feeling we could hope for after performing from the head. “At least I didn’t fail so…yay?”

This is the biggest difference between performing from your heart and your head.

When you’re performing with your heart, you know that no matter what you are awesome. That is your starting point. You’re performing to show off your own inherent awesomeness and share it with others. So when other people may not seem impressed after your performance, it will be a bummer that you didn’t get to share your awesomeness with them, but you still know you’re awesome and can maybe try to share it with that person again later. The risk of criticism is minimal when you are performing with your heart because your worth as a person isn’t dependent on the reaction of other people but it gives you the freedom to totally rejoice in a compliment.

When you’re performing with your head, you start with NOT knowing you are awesome and hoping this performance will make you look awesome to other people. Your starting point is wanting a specific outcome that will validate who you are as a person. Impressing other people becomes the only thing that can make you feel awesome. When people aren’t impressed, it is only evidence of how unimportant, untalented, and undeserving you are. The risk of criticism is a high stakes game when you are performing with your head because your worth as a person is dependent on the reaction of other people and it doesn’t even allow you to fully rejoice in a compliment. No wonder millions of adults are severely depressed and anxious.

The Great Migration

So why not start migrating your performances back to your heart? Imagine how much less anxious and stressed you’ll be.

All you’ve got to do is start accepting that at the core of your being is a giant energy ball of awesomeness. It has always been there. And it will always be there.

Yes, even you.

Yes. Even. YOU.

As you start to see yourself this way, notice how much easier it is to give a presentation, perform in a play, or speak to a stranger at a party. You can still have all the fun of impressing someone, or sharing your awesomeness with someone, or receiving a compliment, but you no longer have to worry about them validating your awesomeness because you already know its there.

You are already supremely awesome. Go now, and freely share your awesomeness with the world.

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Originally published at ourweirdlives.com on June 27, 2017.

Trauma-informed coach helping survivors of narcissistic abuse find confidence in their true self and create happy relationships. IG + Twitter: @justjordinjames