Introducing the 'Performer' - a New Term for Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology seeks to understand and facilitate personal growth. By understanding how different kinds of people move through life struggles to achieve goals, there is sometimes difficulty describing the various dynamics which push different kinds of people into self actualization.

There is a certain set of characteristics which seem to appear within individuals who strive for peak performance, traits which distinguish them from others. Although it may be risky to create a dichotomy which generalizes people into two categories, this particular set of traits is very important for educators, researchers, coaches, and therapists to understand and conceptualize in a unified manner. This allows us to understand and facilitate self awareness within ourselves and those around us.

Performers and Non-Performers

The term 'performer' refers to an individual who actively strives to achieve mastery in one or more domains. The term 'actively' is critical because non-performers, of course, also have to learn how to do things in order to build a career, maintain social ties, and survive. However, the performer pushes beyond the requirements they face to develop skills which may be superfluous, unnecessary, and unusually demanding.

In many cases, the skills a performer seeks will have practical application. But, the performer takes the understanding to levels which go beyond the social, economic, or biological requirements they face.

For example, all doctors must have an excellent understanding of human physiology, unwavering confidence, and utmost discipline in their work. Most people in such a demanding field must be performers in order to be successful. However, some seek to settle into an easier routine, go by the books, and function as a static piece of the hospital or office they work in. Their interest only goes so far as solving the problems their patients face immediately. Once they solve these problems, they are satisfied with the outcome. Or, if they run into a problem which cannot be solved, they are satisfied with the fact they gave it their best effort.

A performer, on the other hand, is never satisfied with his or her work. A doctor who is a performer is constantly doing research, reading the latest publications in their field to see how new tools and techniques might be used to help their patients more effectively. Even when things go well, they reflect and ask what may have been done better, or in less time. They strive for excellence not only when treating a single patient, but try to take new lessons from each case they face.

Personality Traits of Performers

In a more general way, we can see that all performers share several traits. It is important to note that many performers do not have awareness of these traits and how they impact their social relations, lifestyles, and careers.

1. Desire - Performers are never satisfied with their current level of performance. They seek to do things more quickly or more effectively, even when there is no extrinsic motivation to do so.

2. Self-Awareness - Performers are extremely aware of their own processes, learning patterns, and routines. They actively take action to optimize their lifestyle to afford them more time to dive into their field of expertise.

3. Alienation - In many cases, performers have difficulty identifying with non-performers, for a variety of reasons.

4. Intrinsic Motivation - Performers operate primarily from intrinsic motivation, rather than simply responding to external demands. While most people only develop the skills they require to survive and meet social needs, a performer has an endless desire to attain deeper understanding, pursue accomplishments, and contribute creatively to their field.

5. Autodidacticism - Performers are self-learners, but understand the value of insight from people with more experience than they possess. They may or may not choose to pursue formal education. Regardless, they don't spend much time in incompatible learning environments because they understand the importance of facilitating their own learning styles.

6. Variety of Pursuits - Any individual performer will pursue several fields in their lifetime, often more than one at a time. They create challenge where it might not be necessary, sometimes only for their own entertainment.

7. Desire to Support Others - At some point in their lives, performers seek to support other performers in their development. This could be through teaching, coaching, financial support, by writing books, or by other means.

8. Appreciation of Work - Performers display outstanding work ethic.

9. Embracing Challenge - Performers excel in environments of challenge, and can't accept circumstances which force them to into a routine that doesn't push the limits of their performance.

10. Identification with Other Performers - Because of their keen ability to recognize beauty, craftsmanship, intelligence, athleticism, artistry, and other forms of performance, performers look up to those who have achieved the mastery they seek. As time passes, performers recognize the importance of working with others who seek excellence in their field.


It almost goes without saying that, due to the complexity of the psychology of a performer, these individuals face unique challenges which, generally, are poorly understood by non-performers. Many performers remain unaware of that the challenges they face are actually positive traits which propel them into ever higher levels of excellence, and often struggle psychologically.

Of all of the above traits, the primary distinguishing factor is the difference between internal and external motivation. Again, the performer is not satisfied with simply meeting external demands. Although external demands are present in everybody's lives, a performer seeks to redefine the limits of their performance on an intrinsic basis. Understanding the traits of the performer allows us to become more self-aware and more fully appreciate the self expression associated with skill mastery.

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