The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. That has to be my favourite book title. That and Thomas Hardy’s short stories collection “Life’s Little Ironies”. If you have read Hardy then you will appreciate the bitter humour. The title was so good, I couldn’t bring myself the read the book; the book surely couldn’t live up to it.
Erving Goffman was a renowned academic and was one of the first to apply an almost forensic analysis to everyday interactions and this theme was developed in his The Presentation of Life in Everyday Life (1959). The everyday is the important part. We all are aware that we put on a bit of a show for “special” events such as interviews or formal presentations but his take was that we do this all the time to preserve our status and limit damage to our self-esteem. I remember Goffman’s book being deeply serious and at the same time being seriously hilarious. I hope if you decide to read it, so do you.
Shakespeare put it this way:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
Americans have a slightly different way of looking at it. They use the expression:
“Fakin’ it to make it”
Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy has done some interesting research on it: TED Talk: Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are. It is a longish clip but you may find what is contained in there could be useful before that formal presentation or interview.
You can access other help for those tricky presentations in My Career Zone.
Her research shows that body language can affect the levels of the hormones testosterone and cortisol in your body. Testosterone is the one you want to have at a higher level: it makes you feel more powerful. Cortisol is seen as the “stress” hormone. She recommends that before a formal event, for two minutes, you adopt one or two of the power postures. Hands raised, hands on hips, BIG postures.
I tried this out before a particularly nerve wracking session in Newman A. I went to the toilet opposite the Sanctuary, the one that has a constant smell of asparagus. I did a few power postures. I was particularly fond of what I named the “Mussolini”: hands on hips, jaw protruding forward and striding around the room with long, loping steps. Luckily no one came in. It seemed to work and when I arrived for my five minute input to a lecture and it turned out I was doing the whole hour, I somehow survived.
But I have a doubt. What if you fake it and put on a face which is not yours? Do you become a different person? Do you start playing a role which is no longer you or true to your values, to the person you used to be?
If it is true, in my book, that’s a little irony.
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter