Who are we really?
A discussion of nature vs. nurture inspired by Severance
Like the rest of the world, we recently watched Severance on Apple TV. The first season of the dystopian drama seemingly appeared out of nowhere, catching my attention due to all the talk on Twitter about the finale.
Without giving too much away, Severance depicts a world wherein you can sever the memories in your brain and, ultimately, this creates a whole other version of you who can do things you don’t really want to do yourself. The show focuses on a group of severed employees, who voluntarily severed their consciousnesses so they no longer have to remember going to work. For those people, the idea is marketed as a way to avoid ever having to actually work — they’re conscious, but they don’t remember any of it. Sounds good, right?
However, the nefarious result of that same severing process is that a new version of you is created, who is always at work. Every day you go into the office, this new ‘work’ you wakes up - with no memory of who you are on the outside.
As someone who talks regularly about work/life balance (and reads a lot of sci-fi and dystopian fiction in my spare time), this show was made for me. To avoid turning this week’s newsletter into a Severance fan page, let’s just focus on one of the most important themes from the show: nature vs. nurture.
How much of what we do is inherent to who we are and what is really just a result of our environment and upbringing?
If you were born in a completely different situation, would you still have the same values?
What is more significant in the development of your personality: nature or nurture?
In the show, we discover that some of the characters have extremely different lives inside and outside of work. Their “innies” (the version of themselves who appear in the elevator at work, and are perpetually at work) spend all day sorting data as part of a small, close-knit team. Each of the four main characters has their own life outside of work, but the “innie” knows absolutely nothing of who they are when they leave the office doors.
So, this is a true study of nature vs. nurture as the “innies” are starting completely fresh on their fresh day at work - they don’t even know their own names or where they come from.
In a world that operates largely online, we take great pride in putting ourselves into boxes. From the Myers-Briggs Personality Test to the enneagram and even star signs, this act of self-categorisation helps us to feel like we belong. How else will people know what to think of us if they don’t know what we think of ourselves?
Masking and work/life balance
For some people, they are unable to truly be themselves at work in social situations or family situations. Instead, they practice masking, which is the act of hiding or changing behaviour to conform to social norms, and is most common with neurodivergent people such as those with autism or ADHD.
The problem with masking is that it’s exhausting. Pretending to be someone you’re not for hours every day will wear you down, the effects of which will seep through the cracks in the form of depression, anxiety and other mental health symptoms.
So, in that respect, the prospect of being severed is actually quite tempting - cut off the part of you that has to go to work and focus entirely on living your life. However, as the show depicts, there is really no healthy way of separating work from life - even in a dystopian world where surgery is the preferred course of action.
By taking the time to understand your own nature vs. nurture balance, you will be able to make life decisions that better serve you in the long run. This level of introspection can be uncomfortable and even upsetting at times, especially if you learn that some of your most common behaviours come as a result of trauma.
However, acknowledgement is the first step on the way to self-love. It may sound hippy-dippy, but you can’t care for yourself without first understanding why you are the way you are.
Understanding my fear of uncertainty
I used to experience severe anxiety and panic attacks, especially at work. The pressure from upper management combined with the constant threat of meetings and “quick five minute chats” turned me from an ambitious young marketer into a nervous wreck. While none of this experience was ‘my fault’ I did learn that I found comfort in knowing more, whether that’s having time to prepare for a meeting or making the effort to research a client before a call.
Even in my personal life, I don’t like last-minute plans and, as the wife of someone with ADHD, it’s taken us a while to find a happy medium between my micro-management of our social calendars and Craig's innate impulsivity.
Have I always been nervous about last-minute, unplanned events? Or did this hesitancy come as a result of the trauma I experienced under a manager who weaponised meetings as a way of catching me off guard? Is it in my nature or a consequence of past experience?
While Severance posed many other questions about morality, humanity and memory, it’s this point about what truly makes us who are that has stuck with me.
Have you watched Severence yet? What are your views on nature vs. nurture? Pop over to Twitter to discuss this with me @ContentByTheSea, or reply to this email for a chat.
📚 My Body by Emily Ratajkowski - Memoir by the model and actress who was launched to fame in 2013 after starring in the Blurred Lines music video. Emily discusses her own relationship with her body as well as the impact that being in the public eye has had on her and her family. Perhaps naively, I didn’t expect this to be so well written, it’s clear Emily has a talent for writing - this is not ghostwritten. I am really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
📚Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart - This won the Booker Prize back in 2020, so I had high expectations. It tells the story of a young lad growing up in working-class Glasgow during the late 1980s under Thatcher's rule. Honestly, it’s a very difficult read at times, but somehow Shuggie’s innocence brings with it a constant feeling of hope and joy. Highly recommend this one.
📚 Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan - Somehow I picked up another book set during the same period in Glasgow, but this time we follow a group of young lads embarking on an epic adventure to Manchester to attend a music festival with the hope of seeing their favourite brands. If you love 80s films, music and culture, then this will be right up your street. I will add that it takes a solemn turn, so it’s not all headbanging and Morrissey sightings.
♟️ Radlands - We’ve been playing a new card game this week and it’s safe to say I’m hooked! Radlands is a fun, competitive two-player game where the aim is to destroy each other’s wasteland camps. The branding and the artwork are on-point, and it’s quick to play (20 minutes-ish per game) — perfect for a little work break!
That’s all from me this week.
See you next Wednesday with more musings on topics that are important to me, including but not limited to: mental health, work/life balance, internet culture, and much more.
P.S. If someone forwarded you this or you arrived via Twitter, please consider subscribing!
Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:
13th April: The ultimate gramma debate
6th April: Has social media killed nuanced debate?
30th March: Finding diamonds in the rough
23rd March: Do brands really care?
16th March: The future of this newsletter
9th March: Don’t shoot the messenger
2nd March: How to stay informed without going mad
23rd February: This is how it’s always been
16 February: You can only do your best
26 January: The way to a person’s heart
19 January: How do you work?
12 January: Being a morning person is overrated