How to Live in the Moment
A reader wonders how to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and make herself happy instead.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about performativity, the difference between doing something purely for the sake of doing it and doing something with an eye towards how other people will perceive it, of what it "says" about you. Despite being a person who really doesn't let other people's opinions and interests drive my own on a superficial level, I've noticed recently that many of my friends and I myself are very inclined towards "spectatoring," doing things while also hyper-aware of how those things make us look to a third party.
While I don't have a huge problem with depicting myself a certain way to other people (it's only natural, after all), I do worry that it can start to infiltrate my experiences and make me enjoy them less in the moment because I'm thinking about how it will be advertised and perceived later. Do you have any tips for staying in the moment, and for separating enjoyment from other people's perceptions of what I enjoy?
A quick scroll through Instagram will reveal one thing: You’re certainly not alone in feeling this way. But even though expertly curated and meticulously edited feeds might feel effortless, they never are. It’s like we’re all expected to be a generation of new-guard Martha Stewarts who live on a flawless TV set, with a makeup and fashion team perpetually on deck. It’s hard to reconcile the images we see—not just on Instagram, but also on platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, and Tumblr—with how we feel when we're outisde of a spotlight.
Of course, this feeling isn’t limited to social media. Roughly 70% of TV today falls under the reality genre (or, OK, “reality”), and a not-insignificant percentage of the population is totally used to camera crews following them around 24/7. It can leave us all feeling a bit like we’re living in a weird alternate universe, or an IRL version of The Truman Show. Whether it’s IG likes or envious glances, doing things for third-party attention feels great in the moment, but doesn’t last. It’s doing things for you that you’ll enjoy (and remember!) the most. Even the prettiest Instagram can’t replace an authentically epic experience. Kerith Lemon, the filmmaker behind the totally on-point film A Social Life, summed up this sentiment perfectly. “When you take the time out of the thing you’re doing to find the best filter, and think of the best caption, and probably sneak a look at your friend’s posts while you’re on there…that’s the part where you’re missing out on a little bit of life,” she explained.
The easiest way to make sure that the way you’re acting is true to you and not just in line with the way you hope to be perceived isn’t all that easy (at least not at first). You just need to give yourself the freedom to make decisions, without—and here’s the hard part—judging yourself too harshly. Eat a cupcake because you want to eat a cupcake, not because you want to Instagram a cupcake. And if you don’t want to eat a cupcake, don’t!
Do things that make you feel good. If you’ve been doing things and making decisions based on what will please other people for a long time—which most of us are guilty of doing—it’ll take some effort to learn how to do things that please yourself. You’ll have to constantly check in with yourself, which will feel weird, and ask yourself if you’re doing what you want to be doing, which will feel even weirder. But eventually it’ll come naturally, and you’ll feel so, so much more fulfilled and complete. (And if all else fails...eat a cupcake.)