Keep Performing: the society of the tired and fitting

by Augusto Cuginotti

We are asked to perform

We are asked to perform from the cradle. As a toddler, you might be asked to say or do something for one of your relatives to see, and later in school you were constantly asked to perform for others.

As society goes with its stories, as a teenager, you might have felt pressure to do what you otherwise wouldn’t to conform to an idea of success that you’ve never even taken the time to understand, let alone question.

And how about when you got that job? It seemed like the kind of thing everybody wanted, but you might not know how to explain why that is.

We are so frequently asked to perform that we do it without thinking. The trap of performance is twofold:

1. On one hand, there is a cult of performance, one that pushes us to do better but also invites us to do it without ever stopping. In an era of self-exploitation and toxic positivity, people are led to believe they should be producing and performing all the time. This is producing what the philosopher Byung-Chul Han calls the “society of the tired”.

2. On the other hand, there is what we are performing towards. We want to produce, to create, to achieve. That’s a powerful drive, and also a satisfying one when you achieve a goal that you’ve set up and worked hard to get. But how much are we performing towards something we’ve set ourselves? Buying into a generic or given idea of success is, unfortunately, the norm. I’ll call this one the “society of the fitting”.

Fitting on other’s ideas of success

We are bombarded by what it means to be successful and tips on how to be a high achiever towards those goals. First of all, know those meanings and goals are all invented.

And most of the time they are invented by others. You haven’t been invited to that meeting, have you?

To take time to reflect on what success means for us does not maximise production. But what if what’s been given to us does not fit?

You shouldn’t be alone in defining what fits. It is not a self-seeking journey, but rather one of relationship. Is your environment dumping the idea of success on you, or do you have a healthy relationship to inquiry about it?

I know that many don’t even have the luxury of this reflection, but it’s sad that many who have still don’t.

If you are privileged to sit and wonder, how much you have influenced your path? What is the idea of success that has been sold to you, and how much of it do you want to buy?