192. Who are you when I’m not looking (internal vs external validation)

We live in an audience-performer culture it is hard to know which decisions we are making for ourselves and which ones we are making for others. What you buy differently, how would you spend your time differently, how would you be differently without feeling like the world is watching?



In this episode:





Full transcript (unedited)

Hey friends, it’s Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend and counselor from simple on purpose.ca. Welcome to the simpler purpose podcast. Around here we talk about ways to simplify your home, your heart and your life. So my aim is to help us all slow down, quiet the noise, remove the distractions and just look up for a minute at your life and consider what you want to keep and what you want to let go of.

So this week, I’m a little under the weather, I took a sick day yesterday. And that actually worked out well because one of my kids needed a soul care day. So we took it slow together, we each took turns having a hot salty bath with a TV show on the iPad and warm drinks. We did some brain dumping on paper, you know, get out all those stressful thoughts and feelings inside, listen to music went and bought vitamins. It was a it was kind of a beautiful day, even though I didn’t feel great. And I think hot, salty baths, match that with a coffee and an Advil, boom, this is this is why I’m here right now, I can make some progress over the next four hours of my day. And then I’m probably going to move on to burgers and a hot toddy. Because I’m pretty sure that’s the cure for a cold. And I should be good by tomorrow. I’m sure of it, I’m sure of it.

So today I want to talk to you about a concept that has just been rattling around in the back of my brain for years now. And it’s a notion that I like to hold up to the different areas of my life. And just consider how it shows up in these different areas. So I think about it often. And I wanted to share it here because I think it might be interesting to you maybe even helpful for you too. And I’m going to share this concept by sharing some quick stories. I promise they’re all gonna end up going in the same direction. But it’s a little bit of circle time vibes right now. So go get a pillow and a coffee meet me on the circle rug.

On a cold Canadian day in February, almost 13 years ago, I was in early labor with my first child. My husband was driving us to the hospital in the hospitals over an hour away. We have to drive out of town to deliver babies. And this Blake Shelton song came on. It’s a country song and it’s called Who are you when I’m not looking? And my husband was singing it out loud. You know, he’s keeping up the vibes like he does, which is one of the reasons I married him. And I think I even snapped a picture of him just bundled up in the cold weather driving our little SUV totally chill, while I’m over there sweating bullets about going into labor.

And then as the hours went on, and the Labor said in, I was asking him to distract me. And so he was singing the song to distract me. And this song, it became our first child’s anthem, mostly against his will. He’s not into this song. We played it for him recently. He did not really like it. But I just love the idea of this song. The lyrics are, who are you when I’m not around, when the doors locked and the shades are down. And this idea of asking someone who they are without an audience, it’s a really interesting notion. To contrast the private person we are versus the performative person we are.

I remember about five years later, after delivering my first and playing Lego with my kids. And my sister was over with her kids. And I was building like a Lego house or something. And she was like, I just don’t get it. Like how do I just sit here and play Lego. And we laughed both the both of us laughed at this idea that we’re so outcome based. And we just need to know the expectations and it’s just hard to think of something to make for the sake of making it and then you destroy it. And nobody ever sees the outcome.

I think about how we show who we are to the world in how we dress. And I don’t think I well I know that for most of my life, I didn’t really care how I dressed. I did enjoy however thinking I had this hippie vibe. And though we shopped at the thrift store a lot for necessity, I took that as a chance to express myself through foil blouses and peach colored dresses and just you know really embrace that retro side of me. And for much of my life style seemed like inconsequential or something that other people did. Moving out into the workplace. For the first time out of university I worked in a very male dominated industry. And to me professionalism in that industry meant loose khakis, ill fitting polo top and some sensible black shoes. The heavier the better.

And you probably have heard me share this story in the past that my little sister basically had a fashion intervention with me took me shopping, and made me try on all these new things I never would have tried on and it felt like this whole new door opened. And I could think of how I wanted to express myself as an adult woman. I could choose things that I really loved things that actually felt like me.

So over the years you’ve heard me share a lot about mom’s 30 for 30, challengers and capsule wardrobes. And over the years, I’ve tried to curate a closet of clothes that I love and feel like me. But I still struggle with that scarcity mindset that maybe it’s not right or it’s not enough, or it’s already dated. And I really am trying to balance this acknowledgement that I’m someone who enjoys clothes, trying new things, even if they’re thrifted and Hami downs, while also acknowledging that I’m someone who values sustainability, and financial responsibility. So it’s important to me to shop mindfully when it comes to clothes. But one of the hardest things is to be mindful of teasing out what I actually like, versus what society tells me will make me irrelevant.

I read a post from Rachael Cruz, and she wrote, how to love your life, not theirs. I’m pretty sure that book is called. And she asked if nobody ever saw this purchase, would you buy it? Would you buy this thing? If nobody ever saw it? Would you just buy it for you? Or are you buying it for other people to observe it on you? It’s such a good question. Especially in this current culture, we live in this outfit of the day Instagram, fashion blogger, where it’s just normal to share your clothes with the Internet. In fact, it’s it’s a whole industry, right? We have fashion bloggers and influencers who just get free clothes just to post pictures of them wearing them. And then they go into some ever growing closet never to be worn again.

And do you ever have this situation it feels vulnerable to share this, but I will wear you put an outfit together and you’re like, Oh, I think this looks great. I think this looks so cute. Should I Instagram this? Like, I think this in the back of my mind, I don’t Instagram it very rarely. But the fact that this question even flashes into my brain, I think it’s really just a product of this audience, performer culture that we now live in.

There’s a young teen in my life, and one time I was sitting beside them, and they opened up their photo app to show me something. And the photo role was 95%, selfies, the same face pose but with different clothes, maybe different hair, different background, and on and man, I think the Lord that I was not a teenager with the internet and a cell phone, because I cannot imagine that what that would have done to me to see myself reflected constantly and feel like I had to share that and put myself up for evaluation, and measure myself through comments and likes.

It reminds me of that account on Instagram called influencers in the wild, where it’s people taking videos of other people who are taking selfies and videos of themselves, often in very socially inappropriate ways. And it really is about making a mockery of this culture we now have where people are doing ridiculous things, for content of themselves, all that content to just be put on a stage for evaluation, entertainment, and affirmation.

And we’re just in this audience performer culture so deep, we no longer can really be in a place where our lives are not content. I mean, you can be in your own home wrapped up in blankets in your bed in the dark, sharing content. You can totally unplug go out into a cabin in the woods. But you can record all these reels and upload them next week to Instagram.

And all of our life is content these days. I see Instagrams of people holding their dying grandparents hand in the hospital bed. women’s prayer circles with their heads bowed down, quiet morning intimate moments with their kids in their jammies, in their bed, head all messy and or meeting a friend’s brand new baby their first entrance into the world, I see people whose lives seems to be photoshoots. So they can share this curated feed of bright and lovely photos. And it all feels like all of our life is up for consumption on the public stage.

And I don’t mean this in a judgmental way. Because I think it’s a struggle we’re all facing, how much to share, versus how much is sacred just for us just for our family just for our friends, how to be relevant without forgetting to just allow ourselves to exist without observation.

Who are we when no one is looking? If no one came to see you today, and you didn’t post yourself online? How would you dress? If no one ever came into your home and you never shared it on the internet? How would you decorate it? How would you keep it? What would you create? How would you spend your time without an audience without having to share the outcome? In real life or online? Who are we when no one is looking?

I think our instinct is to say, well, I’ll just become a Kaos goblin live in dirty sweats eating peanut butter right out of the jar with a spoon. And I think this response is just to the pressures of being observed all the time. It’s like the pendulum swung hard this way. And now we’re going to swing it back harder the other way. It’s like exhaling after holding your breath for so long. And I think we might be like that for a little bit but not long term. I know this seems like I’m pushing us to live independently of the opinion minds of others and that yes, but yes, but we are also social beings, we learn by watching one another, we have a primal need to belong. And I mentioned this in the motherhood and Instagram culture episode, I’ll make sure to link that in the show notes.

So we are constantly observing those around us to make sure that we are fitting with the social norms that we are seeing socially appropriate, socially acceptable, socially relevant, because there’s safety in that. And I buy into this just as much as the next mom on Instagram. I enjoy following people on Instagram, I enjoy seeing how they spend their time. Some of them I just want to hear their thoughts, and in their opinions on the things that they’re experts on. And I think I’ll always wrestle with this idea of being just another person sharing their life on Instagram, and really listening back into myself about what feels good about that, or not good about that.

The question who we are when nobody is looking really highlights how we can define ourselves in relation to other people. From an early age, we hear what we are from others, we build up a concept of ourselves from the way others talk about us into us and treat us our identity is formed by the reflection of others, into us into ourselves. So now we have this image of who we’ve been told we are we need to uphold it, I need to be the strong one, the sporty one, the fun one, the nice one. And we’re typecast into this role that we didn’t choose but was handed down to us. And now we don’t know how to matter. Without being that thing. That person that that identity. I did an episode on this years ago called do typecast your kids. And many of you have shared with me, that was a really helpful episode, I’ll make sure to link that one in the shownotes.

Who are we underneath all of this performing and coping and mattering? Some of us might grow out of this of this way that we need to define ourselves constantly through the reflection of others. And some of us might decide that the reflection we’ve been getting is like one of those crazy mirrors at the fair, it’s all distorted, it’s not accurate. It’s based on that skewed lens of the person doing the reflecting. And for some of us, this allows us to start internally gauging who we are looking internally, what’s important to us, we learn to validate ourselves internally, rather than relying on that external validation. Rather than constantly needing that reflection back to us of what we are what makes us valued. What makes us accepted.

When my daughter was about four or five, I remember her asking me why I put on makeup each day. And I told her because I think it’s fun. Such a mom answer and I let that be true. I let myself have fun with it. But it also feels just too tragic to say, Oh, honey, we live in a society where a woman has to look a certain way. And if I don’t wear mascara and concealer, people will see I haven’t slept in five years. And let’s just be real mascara looks good on everyone.

But can I ask myself, what would make me feel beautiful? If I was truly alone, with no audience, not even my husband. Even when we ask as women, what makes us feel beautiful, we can not unpair it from that deep cultural conditioning on what it means to look like act like feel like a woman? How would we spend our money and our energy differently? If our womanhood was based on our personal passions, and individual expressions of who we are, instead of being based on women being a consumable product, the culture is the consumer, our image is the product, and the image has to meet this checklist. And this checklist gets expensive. And it makes us all kind of a different version of each other. And when we are all versions of the same thing that quickly breeds comparison.

Who are we when nobody is looking? How would we live differently if our life wasn’t on display? Or something to be consumed by others? Or if we didn’t give the audience directorial control of the performance of our lives? How would we spend our time differently? Would our bathroom look differently? I can tell you I’ve all the lotions and potions in my bathroom, when I still have those. Would we parent differently? Would we treat our spouses differently? Would we shop differently? Would we feel different about ourselves in our lives, with the things that I’m working on change if the outcome was only for me, and all of the balance that I want to feel in my life versus the outcome being for the audience, and all of the cultural standards put on me.

I often reflect of the phenomenon that we spend a lot of our youth trying to fit in really trying to fit and be part of the group where the same things and then a lot of our young adulthood, and even into our 30s trying to stand out and find ourselves underneath all of that. I really think it’s an ongoing process to keep refining yourself closer to who you are at your core versus who you are for other people.

So If all of this feels like a challenge, if this is challenging you and you’re like, I don’t even know who I am, this is such a common thing I hear from my clients, I don’t even know who I am. Start small. What is one little decision that you can make today that feels like it’s just for you, and it’s true to you. Maybe you put on a song you want to listen to or dance to or sing to. Maybe you sit in the in your favorite chair in the house. Maybe you make a meal that you love and just add some toasted peanut butter for the haters cuz they’re gonna be disappointed in dinner. Maybe you wear that sweater that accessory that makes you smile. The thing is called dopamine dressing, just wearing things that make you feel happy. And start to ask yourself, when I spend my time like this, spend my money like this, when I post this or share this when I decorate like this, am I doing it for me? Or because somebody else might be looking.

I know I’m a classic over thinker. But I do hope this concept has been interesting to you as it has been to me. And I hope it helps you just shrug off some of the things that you know you’re kind of doing for the validation or observation of others that you no longer want. I hope it helps you shed a layer of who you tried to be so you can show more of the true you underneath all of that.

If this episode has made you feel feelings or think thoughts, I hope you will share them in the Facebook community. That community exists to carry on the conversations that we have here to share questions and share encouragement with with one another.

One of the questions that I’m actually asking the community right now is for feedback on the topic of simple living. I get a lot of episode requests to talk about simple living, but I’m not exactly sure what to share. I mean, I can think of 15 different aspects to cover on the topic of simple living. So I want to hear exactly from you. If simple living is of interest to you. Stop by the Facebook group. Let me know what questions you have about it and what specific issues would be helpful for you. All right, friends, have a great week.



2 thoughts on “192. Who are you when I’m not looking (internal vs external validation)”

  1. That was fantastic! There is something that my daughter’s generation does, that I have not been able to articulate and this podcast did just that!I am not a picture taker, I rarely post my own things, (shares of funny posts mostly). I usually have the notion that how I live my life is no one’s business. Since my husband passed (3years this march) I have been keeping to my self, making my home and yard systems something that I can manage on my own and I want no witnesses to this process. Just like you said in your podcast, I have allowed myself to exist without observation, and it feels precious to me.


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