The Performative Nature of Building in Public: A View From the Inside

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When you build in public, you’re performing. You can call it what you want: sharing your authentic journey, teaching from the driver’s seat — when you type your updates into that Twitter prompt, you are thinking about how you can “most authentically show something” to your audience.

And that is a performance.

A performance that I believe to be worthwhile and empowering, but nonetheless artificial and strategic. It’s something that every public builder struggles with.

Why does this matter?

It matters because one of the most common arguments against building in public is it being nothing more than a publicity stunt, a marketing angle, a way of socially manipulating people into caring about your brand.

It’s not just that. It’s way more, and that is what I want to talk about today. In fact, I want to share not what I think about this issue but what it feels like from the inside. From the inside of a build-in-public journey and the inside of me, the person behind the Twitter avatar.

I’ve been building in public for years now. There are entrepreneurs out there that have been around for decades — people like Pat Flynn, who has been sharing his journey since 2008. He’s still going strong.

It’s not a particularly new or surprising thing that you can get people to invest their attention, support, and eventually money into you and your business by involving them in the process. Building in public is probably just a rebrand of the open-kitchen restaurant.

But the scope at which this happens today is something new. Hundreds if not thousands of people decide to build their next project publicly if my Twitter feed is any indication.

And that is reason enough to talk about one of the problems with building in public: the amount of cognitive dissonance you have to live with as a builder.

It starts with the intentionality of building on social media. Back when I used Twitter and Facebook just to keep in touch with friends & family, it was easy to use those tools: you read a lot, and sometimes posted a message here or there, depending on your mood and if you had taken a nice picture of your meal in the recent past.

But now that I have a strategic goal that involves using Twitter and other social media purposefully, I am constantly feeling like Jekyll and Hide: who is talking, Arvid the founder or Arvid the… Arvid?

You constantly oscillate between person and persona when you share your journey day in day out.

It’s bizarre.

There are moments when I know exactly what I want to tweet, but I stop myself, thinking that this might dilute my “message.” And then there are the moments when I am not on Twitter, doing regular person things like carrying groceries or making an omelet, where I ponder if this activity would be worth sharing online. One day, I saw a couple of cans of imported beer and wondered aloud if “this might be content.”

Ouch.

People who act and share in public are under this constant self-imposed pressure to a) use their daily lives as content and b) not over-optimize their lives to turn the performance into reality. Detaching from this balancing act is very hard, and it takes focused attention and willpower to push it into the virtual realm, where it belongs. Nobody teaches you this, and the positive reinforcement you get from your audience sure doesn’t help push it aside.

From my perspective, I feel that whenever I tweet, I’m both on a stage in front of a crowd of people and on a couch with a few of my best buddies. After all, I have forged great friendships on Twitter, and those people often engage with my tweets, but almost 50.000 other Twitter users are watching at the same time.

You become aware of that at some point. A reply, out of the blue, coming from a person on the other side of the planet, will throw you off balance, either because it’s rude or hits you where you didn’t expect it. And you’ll notice that it’s not just your buddies watching, but a global audience of people who know you well — but you don’t know them at all.

So far, so gloomy.

I was pretty afraid of these moments for a long while. And then, I chose to embrace them and be honest to myself about what I was doing. And that made everything much clearer, easier, and allowed me to set boundaries.

Honesty starts with admitting your goals. Building an audience —creating an intentional following of people with the expressed intent to make money off that in some way at some point— is a business goal. It’s something I want: a financial goal to work towards.

And that’s something new when it comes to social media: there is no business goal to being on Facebook when all you do is chat with pals and family. There is no pressure to “retain your friends by broadcasting content” — you being you is what they follow you for.

Funnily enough, the most effective way of building in public seems to be exactly that as well. But you only arrive there, ironically, by going through this stage of learning how to perform your authentic self.

This is the journey I took: from normal person to strategic builder-in-public to normal person building in public. You go from person to persona and back to person. I’m not a psychologist, but this sure sounds weird to me. In a good way, but also in a not-so-good-for-you kind of way.

A kind of self-censorship happens when you know that everyone is watching: every tweet is a performative act, even spontaneous ones. Your awareness of your audience adds a filter to your own self-perception.

You start asking yourself, “Is this act of mine an authentic act?” Isn’t that the weirdest thing? You’re literally asking yourself, “Would I do this if I was me?”

It was when I understood the ridiculousness of this circular argument that I stopped being a persona and went back to being a person.

I stopped treating my progress updates as a demand-increasing strategy and just shared the interesting parts of my work — because they’re fun or because they’re horribly boring.

I even regularly forget to plug my projects in the tweets where I talk about them. I am genuinely myself in these moments: a curious tinkerer sharing something that made him giggle. Or rage, or ponder, or whatever triggered that. But I feel that this is the kind of public sharing that I want to do: allowing my own human curiosity to make others curious.

Funny enough, admitting your goals in public is also performative. I’m quite aware of that.

And it creates a particular resonance in some people. I’ve received many DMs about this, either directly asking me about the performance aspect or in a more veiled, perhaps less self-aware version: “how can I stay authentic?”

This question always comes with the hidden question of “how much is too much or too little authenticity?”

Honestly, as long as you ask yourself this question, you won’t find an answer. Your authenticity — on Twitter, mind you — is an externalized quality anyway: it’s not you being authentic that matters, but the perception of those who find you authentic.

And that, like with your real-life friends, can only come from a long time of seeing you act in accordance with your stated intentions. It’s about trust—trust that develops while people are on your journey with you.

So, if you struggle with the questions about your own “self-authenticity” (what a confusing recursion!), you might find solace in the fact that you just need to match your actions to your promises to be perceived as an authentic person. That’s a pretty simple filter to apply to deeds and words, and it will serve you better than all than “here is what it means to be a public builder” castles in the sky you came up with until now.

Just show up, show your work, and do it long enough for people to find joy in it.

Be honest with your audience about your goals: if you are building an audience strategically, admit that—first to yourself, then to your audience.

That removes the “veil of projection” from all of your interactions. I’ve always hated how certain marketers made me feel like they were genuinely interested in a relationship. I really did not enjoy all those almost-personalized cold emails I received over the years where I know for a fact that I am just one of the hundreds that got an AI-originating message. They’ve always felt dishonest. They projected familiarity and empathy, but the moment I’d fall of the funnel, all contact would be gone.

That’s the dishonest part. I was promised a relationship, but they were looking for a transaction.

The question this poses to me is if there can even be genuine relationships when at least one side has a business interest. Can this relationship be anything but transactional?

I believe it can. In fact, I see it develop every day on my own journey.

The reason I am so optimistic about building in public as a means to empower your life and the lives of those around you is that once you learn to be honest, once you accept delayed gratification and being selfless in the moment as a generally worthy way of spending your time, you are leveraging the most powerful force between people: connection.

You increase your potential tenfold once you allow for a genuine and non-transactional relationship to bloom. The moment you stop playing finite games and start playing infinite games, you outgrow the performative nature of your public journey. When you understand that being kind and honest today will create a better life for you a few years down the road, things will become much less about “being just the right amount of authentic” and much more about being the tide that raises all the boats.

And that is what I want to be.

That’s my goal, and that’s what I want to help others find as well. That’s why I build in public.

I said initially that this was less about what I think and more about what I feel, and I hope that the train-of-thought nature of this piece didn’t leave you more confused than you were before.

I am writing this after having spent the last five days working for ten hours a day on my Twitter course. I recorded almost five hours of material in one day and spent two full days listening to myself teach the course —twice!

During those two sessions of being my own student, I started feeling clarity around my path to becoming a public builder. I noticed what I had always thought it would be like, what it turned out to be, and what struggles I went through.

I was also sharing this particular course-creator journey on Twitter quite a lot. There was great feedback, a lot of support, and an avalanche of admiration. It made me feel very welcome, very grateful for all the little moments of kindness.

It is from that place in my heart that I write this. I hope this allowed you to glimpse what goes on in the mind of someone who learns so he can teach, and teaches so he can learn.

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