Performative Honesty

A retrospective on 2023 through the lens of genuine vs performative honesty, and looking ahead into a spiritual journey in 2024

This New Years post is likely different than the other ones I’ve shared in the last ten years. I still find it useful to keep a record of where I am, and the process of writing often helps me sort out my thoughts, but in general I’ve become increasingly less “performative” in my sharing.

The complicated thing about posting on the internet – whether words in a blog, quips in a tweet, selfies in a reel, or formal photos in a post – is that even the most realistic, raw, and honest posts are still playing in the space of crafting a public persona. It is possible to intellectualize vulnerability in a way that still protects ourselves from feeling the very emotions we are discussing, and the line between “genuine sharing” and “validation seeking” with our content is very thin in the public sphere. In questioning those things, the urge to share decreases. Perhaps I choose instead to write privately, or talk with another person, or keep the photos to myself, or self-reflect, or just stay in the moment as I experience it.

I mourn the things I lose in the process: a record of my life that enables my terrible memory to recall the things I have experienced, the comments and connections on posts when something I share is funny or helpful to others, the feeling of consistency and achievement, the idea that people want to know or care what I am up to. Perhaps there are ways I can support these things in the future, while still honoring the discoveries I make about myself along the way.

On 2023

2023 had some significant personal and career milestones that I want to mention, if only for the historical record and to remind myself exactly what has happened this year:

  • getting married, and all the planning and connections involved
  • being part of another wedding, and all the planning and connections involved
  • beginning 12 Step work with a sponsor in my second year of AlAnon
  • getting a new genetic diagnosis and understanding of my long-term platelet disorder
  • dealing with worsening daily fatigue and losing my ability to exercise
  • trips and connections with extended and immediate family
  • continued work on furnishing the house
  • creating new traditions and addressing new conflicts as a married couple
  • working with a new agency partner to help NASA launch their site and video streaming service
  • returning to the stage with new talks in both the AIGA and WordPress communities
  • identifying an opportunity and beginning a career pivot

My guiding mantra for the year was “Clear Is Kind,” which was intended as an exercise in boundaries, communication, expectations, and honesty. Of course, I heard this one through Brené Brown (the entire phrase is “Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind”) but it was interesting to me that she herself first heard it at a 12 Step meeting. It was partially due to this fact that I chose the concept for the year, as it resonated with the things I was starting to work on in my own 12 Step work. It made sense to adopt this mantra after a year of working on vulnerability – I felt that being vulnerable was a good first step, but if there wasn’t a deeper honesty around the expectations I had for myself and for others, it could still lead to hurt, conflict, and grief.

Sara Caputo

This quote is a pretty good summary of how I tried to live this mantra. I also liked how it aligned with the concept of “Let it begin with me,” where changes in my life begin with the changes in myself.

Some additional supporting thoughts:

  • You need to know yourself for others to know you
  • Setting boundaries requires understanding your own borders
  • Unstated expectations are premeditated resentments. Resentment is poison, and preventable.
  • Being unclear moves power away from you, and allows the situation to control you. Being clear is powerful, and centers the power of your situation back onto you
  • Being unclear is more about you avoiding being uncomfortable than it is about how someone else will feel
  • Setting small boundaries or asking for small needs *in the moment* will prevent a major snowball or confrontation later

It’s hard not to look back on it and try to evaluate whether I “succeeded” or “failed” at living this mantra, but I know that’s not really useful. What I can say is that it was a helpful reminder to have in the back of my mind this year, and it probably shaped many of my thoughts and actions.

On 2024

I haven’t yet selected the guiding mantra for 2024, but I have some feelings about how it is going to coalesce. I want 2024 to be a spiritual year – and not in a religious, theistic, or deistic sense, but definitely in a sense of connecting to a power greater than myself. I’m resonating with the idea of unconditional Love as a higher power, and the idea of a spiritual compass as a guide for the direction of my life.

Believing in the higher power/greater potential of love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and worthiness of human beings, and believing that I can also include myself in that list. I’ve resisted the idea that “you must love yourself in order to love others,” but I am starting to see that, while this is not true of “human” love (romantic love, familial love, platonic love, etc) I think it is true of unconditional or transcendent Love. Put another way, I suspect we are not capable of letting go of the judgements, resentments, and control of others (the things that get in the way of Love) until we are also capable of letting go of them in ourselves.

Being willing to let go of the immediate urgency of pain, anxiety, control, and judgement in favor of something greater. This is like trusting your compass to keep pointing North even when the immediate landscape around you is unfamiliar, frightening, or blocking the path forward. Some may call this “surrendering your will to a higher power” but that language doesn’t always resonate. I’m thinking instead about trusting that your spiritual compass is leading you in the right direction, even if you, lost and frustrated and unable to see the forest for the trees, think you’re going backwards, or even stubbornly insist your way is better than the way of the compass.

Where will this go? I’d love to distill it into a short phrase that I can keep remembering throughout the year. Maybe when I return next year, I can share this phrase with you. Happy New Year, all.

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3 responses to “Performative Honesty”

  1. This was a powerful read. Thank you sincerely for sharing!

  2. 100% agree this is a wonderful post. My whole family has loved you in that transcendent unconditional way for a long time now.

  3. Love that you mentioned Brene Brown — I literally just finished reading one of her books and some of the concepts you mentioned are fresh in my mind too — things I want to be better at.

    Congratulations on your marriage and so many wonderful things in your life. Thank you for sharing this!