All The World’s A Stage: How To Be More Than A Mere Player

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Stand up comedy is a lot of fun to watch but if you ask most people, they would probably say that they could never do it. It may be because they do not think they are generally funny people and would struggle to write jokes, let alone tell them. Others would probably demure because the idea of doing anything on a stage scares them. The idea of strangers looking back at you expectantly, waiting to be entertained, is for some a nightmare. However, the facts remains that people do stand up comedy and many of them claim to enjoy it. What is it about these people that enables them to do it? Is it a pathological sense of self-worth that propels them to implicitly suggest that what they have to say is worth listening to? Maybe it is something as sad as their not being able to do anything else. Besides, stand up comics sometimes say that they too get nervous. The difference may be that they know how to utilise that feeling and make it work for them. The fundamental aspect of something like stand up, or acting, or any kind of performance, is confidence. The performer is demanding attention and the consequence of that is that they will be expected to warrant that attention. If they do not prove that they are worth spending time on, they will lose their audience, and they deserve to until they improve.

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The odd thing about people who claim that they could never do any type of performance is that they do it everyday. When you go to work, you are performing professionally. If your performance fails and you seem to have a disregard for your company or your customers you will likely lose your job. Another common performance that people indulge in is the one they adopt when talking with children. You sometimes cannot be as honest with children as you would with adults and it is incumbent upon you to pretend to answer a toy phone for instance, because failing to do so would hurt their feelings. Everybody assumes different roles at different moments, and they switch between them all the time. Even the way we speak changes depending on our interlocutor. The discipline of sociolinguistics is dedicated to it.


There are lots of situations in life where you do not just need to behave in a certain way, you have to think about how to present yourself to your best advantage. One important example is in trying to find a job. Everybody needs to do something and to succeed, everybody needs to prove that they are the best at a particular role. To secure employment, you have to demonstrate your value to your potential employer. The first stage in this process is writing a concise, convincing CV or resume. This is the first thing that the HR department will see and if they do not find that it holds their interest, you have no chance of even securing an interview. Once you get an interview, a different, more personal sort of performance is required. The people interviewing you are trying to assess whether you would be a good fit with their organisation. The way they are going to get this information depends less on what you say than you might expect. Their first impression of you will be important, as will your body language throughout the conversation. If you are visibly nervous, they may not acknowledge it, but you can be sure that they noticed. A study conducted by Albert Mehrabian once famously found that what we say accounts for only 7% of what we communicate. Whether this is true or not is another matter, but the point remains that non verbal communication plays a big role in how we are perceived. If interviews are something that you struggle with, you may want to consider interview coaching. The best advice, when faced with a weakness, is to seek out the help of experts.

Photo by David Davies


Once you have found a job, you may think that you can take a break from pretending and be yourself. However, that is not really the case. In 1969, Laurence J. Peter wrote a book that surmised that in a hierarchy like a corporation, people will rise to their level of incompetence. A person who is good at their job gets promoted. This will happen every time they find they can still do the better job until they get promoted to a job they cannot do. Peter suggests that to stay in a job that suits you, you should pretend to be incompetent at it.
In a world where you seemingly always have to pretend to succeed, the path to success is being smart and learning what you do badly, and improving on it.

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