Performative Business

Toxic Capitalism and the Hidden Dangers of Performative Business: Challenging the Culture of Abundance

Performative Business
Written by: Sophie Kessner
The Sophie Kessner Podcast
Toxic Capitalism and the Hidden Dangers of Performative Business: Challenging the Culture of Abundance
Welcome to the Sophie Kessner podcast. So few updates I want to acknowledge before we dive in. The first is that we have rebranded and renamed the podcast, and we did that for a few reasons. One was because, as I sat with what I wanted this podcast to represent, the brand of the sacred CEO didn’t feel like it was all encompassing, and as I sat with alternative names, the other thing that I came to conclusion with is that it’s always going to be changing. So I decided at this point we’re just going to go ahead and keep it with the thing that will likely never change, which is my name. So for further due, the podcast moving forward is going to be under the Sophie Kessner podcast. That should be updated in all of the spaces and places, but, just in case, if you are ever looking for that, that is what it is under now. So, that being said, i want to dive into a series here as we are beginning to reopen the podcast.
It’s been about three, two, three years since we were consistently podcasting. Back when I had my original podcast with my old podcast co-host, dan Mendelow, the podcast name was the Mind Mastery and Manifestation podcast. We ran that from 2017 through about the end of 2020 and a little into 2021. But, that being said, that podcast has a lot of content, a lot of details, some of which may still be relevant, but a lot of which, i would say, has since evolved. And so this podcast, and really my goal with this series, as I am going into a solo approach is to really provide an educational platform. There is so much that I want to share, there is so much I want to teach, there is so much I want to educate and form on, and, unfortunately, a lot of platforms like Instagram, like TikTok, like Facebook they don’t allow for the long form educational content that I really care about, that I really want to put forward. Hence why the intention for 2023 and moving forward is to continue the production of this podcast and really leverage it as one of the core pillars for my business But, more importantly, one of the core pillars for how I provide content, information and educate my audience. So, if you’d like to stay up to date, one of the things that makes the biggest difference for this podcast, to make sure that it’s being seen and heard by the right people, is to like and subscribe. Leaving reviews, providing ratings, makes a huge, huge difference. So if you are open to it and if that feels right for you, great, and if not, that’s totally okay. So, all of that being said, let’s dive in.
Today’s episode is on a post and I made recently talking about performative business and toxic capitalism. I will refer you to the blog linked to this podcast episode for the visual of this, and the blog for the podcast can be found on my site at sophiekessenercom. So, when we’re talking about toxic capitalism and performative business, there’s a few things that we want to look at. The first is understanding what is performative business. Now, this might be a new term, this might be something you’ve heard before in other spaces, but I’m going to define it in how I personally like to interpret the term and how we’ll be using it for the context of this episode. So performative business, in my lens, is looking at the way in which we show up and monetize and commodify our personal lives, personality, well-being and anything else that’s connected to how we exist in the world, to then create an identity or a persona, usually defined as a personal brand, that is selling a service or a product online which promises for others to be able to experience a lifestyle that’s similar to the one you’re portraying online. Now why do I call this performative? A lot of the times that will the things that will here coincide with this ideology around. You fake it until you make it. You embody the energy of who you want to be in the here and now and align your vibrational frequency with that energy And by doing so you’ll attract what you desire. Those words just came out of my mouth, but luckily for you, they’re in much more of a satire-y form, and the reason being is because what I want to do is start to unpack why this type of marketing, this type of business, has the potential to be incredibly problematic. And I say potential because there are times and spaces and places in which it might be more appropriate. But we have to be tentative to better understanding the core components of the model so that we can use it in an ethical and equitable way. So, backtracking performative business Really, what I’m hinting at here are things like luxury lifestyle brands, things like personal brands, that co-op movements of personal empowerment really are just selling this idea of luxury, freedom, having it all, being able to do what you want, be what you want, be your own boss And we’ve all kind of heard and seen that over the years, and I think one of the things that’s important here is to recognize that we’re not demonizing or calling out or making anybody bad or wrong who’s used these practices.
And we’re going to pause for a second so I can adjust the gain a little. Oh, it’s all the way down, wow, ok, so we’re not demonizing, we’re not making wrong, we’re not attacking by any means, but what I want to do is look at this through a educational lens and start to unpack the different components of it so that we can start to see where there’s a lot of opportunity for problems and problematic practices to exist. So when we’re thinking about the luxury lifestyle brand, essentially what that looks like, is you showcasing how great your life is, how powerful you feel, how high your vibe is, how awesome you are, and you’re doing that to create a sense of inspiration in air quotes, excuse me, are something that’s aspirational for folks that you are trying to market towards. And so how do you do that? You do that by sharing all of the awesome pieces of your life. You do that by trying to do death, by trying to demonstrate a sense of authority and a sense of credibility. You talk with confidence, you lead with a powerful emotional state.
You show up as quote unquote your best self, and a lot of the times, these are the brands that a lot of us fawn over. We see these folks that have seemingly perfect lives, seemingly perfect relationships, seemingly perfect personalities. Everything about them is quote unquote perfect. And oftentimes we’ll also see a really interesting tactic that shows up here, and what that is is leveraging and co-opting these pieces of authenticity and vulnerability to try to leverage themselves as not being perfect, while at the same time, they’re continuing to perpetuate problematic practices like utilizing virtue signaling to trigger people into buying. So let’s unpack that a bit more. So in the graph.
If you look at this inside of the blog or you can look it on my Instagram at I am Sophie Kessner what we see first is this thing called laptop lifestyle lies. And what laptop stuff Oh, i’m going to die Oh, no, no, no. What laptop lifestyle lies are are a series of ideas, of beliefs, of ideologies, of concepts that we throw onto the internet and we say you can have this too. You can do this if you just believe, if you just want it bad enough, then you can have this. And the biggest laptop lifestyle lie that we see perpetuated in the online space is this idea of the instant success myth. Now, if you’re looking at the image, the way that this is defined is setting unrealistic expectations of quick wins and fast cash through minimal effort and our credentials. So let’s unpack that a little bit.
The instant success myth is this idea that with no money, no training, no education, regardless of your background, regardless of your credibility, you too can have all of the success in the world. You can have a seven figure business, you can make millions of dollars, you can go and climb to the top of the world, you can have the perfect relationship, the perfect body, all the confidence and be the happy, awesome person. And you can have it like that if you just align your energy, if you just step into a high vibe, if you just yada, yada, yada, yada. So why is this incredibly problematic? Because part of the strategy here is disarming a lot of the rationale and logic that most folks would typically use when it comes to making big decisions. And it’s even more problematic when on the back end of doing such things is the intention to sell a service or a product.
So it’s one thing to share your life and share about what you’re doing and how you live and essentially just be a blogger, right? It’s a whole different game when you’re doing this to try to create an image, to try to influence and to inspire and to get people to buy into this idea that they can have it too, and then selling to them that all they need to do is be like you. But obviously not in those terms. The things that will here is you just need to shift your mindset, change your beliefs, change your identity, quantum leap, heal your money wounds and all of the things of the sort. And the reason why this is really responsible is, when we start to unpack the conversation, what you’ll notice as part of the next piece of the cycle is this type of messaging. This type of branding will often leave folks to making high risk investments in quick fix solutions out of FOMO. So that’s mouthful. Let’s unpack that a little bit.
We’re talking about marketing to people who are in emotionally vulnerable spaces. Right, these are people who are hanging onto hope, hanging onto a sense of only if, dreaming of wishing for, deeply craving and wanting that thing to right. There’s a sense of inspiration, which is why it’s such a powerful hook for people. And then there’s sold this idea that if they just invest in this thing, if they just do the work, if they interest the other, money wounds, align their chakras whatever the modality being sold is that then they’ll be able to have infinite wealth and exponential growth and quantum leap. And so they get rid of all the rationale and all of the parts of themselves that my question or doubt or whatever it is, because what they’re sold and part of the programming is that those are the things keeping you stuck. So don’t listen to that part of yourself that’s questioning it, don’t listen to the part of yourself that’s doubting it. Don’t listen to the people who are saying I don’t know if that’s a good idea, i don’t know if that’s real, because that’s the problem.
And so what happens is people are spending money that they don’t necessarily have. They’re choosing to opt into really, really big financial investments on the gamble that in doing so, they’re going to somehow make the return, and the return on an investment. So The numbers that I’m talking about here are 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re talking about a lot of money, a lot of money. A lot of the times it’s more than what people make an entire month, even sometimes in an entire year. And so there’s this idea that if I can just get past this fear, if I can just get past my limiting beliefs that this isn’t possible for me and I believe hard enough then I too can have that thing. So let me completely get rid of any emotional or any logic or any rationale and do the thing Out of FOMO, fear of missing out.
So another tactic that we oftentimes see is it’s like now is the time, now you’ve got to do this, and that’s another thing that we’ll see, along with tactics around the prices going up. Tomorrow I’m going to be doubling my rates. This is the last time And I will say there are certain pieces and certain components that are new wants When you’re our closing card, when you do have an actual program that you only run once a year. Okay, yes, there’s truth and validity to that. But one thing I don’t and can’t get behind is the outlandish constantly raising my rates because I feel like it randomly one day, and then using that as a scarcity tactic even though I say it’s an empowerment tactic to try to get people to buy now so that they don’t miss out on the special rate or they don’t miss out on the last spot and when. In reality, that’s just not true. So here’s what we see These people come in, they make these big financial investments Huge, huge, huge.
And what comes from that? if you’re looking at the graph I created, here are a few pieces of how it impacts that individual’s system. Now I’m looking at this through a trauma-trained lens, having spent the last three years training in trauma work, training in somatic, with over 500 plus hours of personal study and also supervised consultations, and that’s really what I’m pulling on here and the research that I’m collecting. So when we make high-risk investments, there’s a few things that are happening. It’s this feeling of a gamble. There’s this really big sense of like oh man, is this going to work? And you can feel it in my voice when I’m talking about this. So you go from doubting things and wondering and just kind of going through the motion to somebody providing a huge emotional shift by influencing you through their emotional state and them having such a high level of confidence and intensity and certainty that your system is like okay, yes, i can do this, i can do this, i can do this.
And what ends up happening a lot of times is it puts our system into a space of arousal and our activation, or there’s a charge. However you want to look at this in the language that you want to apply, feel free. But essentially, the point being is we’re going from living in a certain space to our systems being revved up into an heightened emotional space, where then we’re being conditioned to operate from, because this is us stepping into our power, this is us showing up as our most powerful selves. But oftentimes what happens because we’ve made massive financial investments and massive financial commitments, usually without the rationale attached is now there’s a sense of urgency and emergency that shows up, and what that looks like is we feel like OK, i need to make money now So I can pay this bill on top of covering my living expenses.
Now, what’s also really interesting here is there tends to be a ideology around living in abundance and buying all of the things now. So what do we do? We increase the cost of living for ourselves to try to maintain an ideology and to try to maintain an image of luxury, of having it all of. I’m going to spend thousands here and thousands there and thousands on this and do all of this shopping and buy all of these things because I’m an abundant being, all while rocking up a ton of debt, a ton of debt. And I say this time and time again. And so part of the issue here is you’re increasing your cost of living.
What your bare minimum monthly expenses are If you invest in a program, that’s $5,000 a month. And I’m not making these numbers up, folks, ok, sorry, real numbers. People charge. They’re charging you $5,000 a month And now you have to pay that on top of your rent, on top of all of your other living expenses. And let’s just throw a number out there. Let’s say $3,000, $4,000 a month is just your basic living expenses, for food, groceries, rent, car, et cetera. That’s $9,000 a month that you now have to make before you even pull a profit. That’s ludicrous, but this is the reality for a lot of folks.
And then we convince ourselves that we’re not living in a state of urgency and that we’re not living in a state of hyperarousal. But the reality is our systems are feeling the intensity and the urgency of needing to make money to survive. But now we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s us living in abundance to do that, and so the solution is buy more expensive things, invest more, and it starts to build this really interesting counterintuitive culture where we say it’s not hustle culture, but it is. It’s hustle culture disguised as feminine empowerment, disguised as luxury lifestyle and ease and flow. But the reality is, if you look at this and you really get behind the scenes of these businesses and these models, it’s folks who are, instead of constantly doing all of the things in their business, they’re doing things as far as rituals and processes and practices and luxury things, thinking that that’s going to be the solution.
And I’ll say here there’s a caveat. Of course, i’m all for self-care, i’m all for doing what you need to do to take care of you, and the caveat being that you do irresponsibly, you’re not putting yourself in a financially risky position to where now you’re dependent on having clients sign up and pay for your services, because that, right there, is one of the core issues with this business model. We have to, because we don’t have a baseline of financial security outside of our business. We have to create financial growth in the business to pay for the lifestyle of said business. We have to show up online. We have to market. We have to sell. We have to be constantly launching new offer after new after and raising our rates and keeping clients on board and keeping them on their feet, because if we don’t, we can’t pay our basic expenses, and that’s part of the issue.
Additionally, if you’re looking at the graph again on my Instagram or on the blog, the next thing that we’re looking here is the issue of paying and selling proximity to power. So we’ve talked about this a little bit. Right, this idea that you’re getting into this thing, where now you’re selling the thing that you were sold, that you’re utilizing things like virtue signaling, privileged marketing and trying to What is the word I’m looking for here You’re trying to get people to invest in idea that they can have this too, and part of the problem with this is, a lot of the times, what we’ll see is because we’re living in such a high end state of an urgency, this sense of survival right, you’ll see a lot of times there’s panic attacks that come up Here, a lot of high anxiety, a really high dependency on caffeine, constantly needing adrenaline in your life and constantly needing more. There’s no ability to really slow down. In fact, slowing down and not doing things isn’t necessarily seen as a good thing, and so part of what we’re seeing here is folks, because there’s this increased necessity for increased revenue just to cover their expenses because their cost of living is now so high that they will then rupture their own boundaries. They will compromise their own values to try to justify what it is they’re doing, but not really fully understanding the depth of what’s happening and what they’re doing and how it’s all working.
And this is really the underlying piece that’s really confusing and really disorienting and discombobulating. Having been somebody who had gotten pulled into this kind of model and clawing my way out of it, there’s a ton of guilt and shame that you have to unpack about where you betrayed yourself and where you fell into patterns of believing that you were doing the right thing, that you were doing it for the empowerment of other people, that you were believing in their power, that you were wanting to hold them to a higher standard and all of the other BS that’s out there. But the reality is what’s actually happening is we’re leveraging privilege and we’re virtue signaling to try to get people in and saying it’s because we want to empower them and help them heal, and all of the nonsense. And part of the issue with this is when you’re in this world, you get put into that echo chamber. So this is the next little part of the graph. We’re talking about an isolated echo chamber that normalizes problematic practices and gas lights opposition. So What I’m talking about here is you’ll see this trend of building this high-of-high community or whatever it is, And part of the way that they get people to interact is you have all of these people cheering each other on and creating this culture celebration, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Again, this is why this is really confusing and disorienting is because there’s a lot of pieces that have the potential to be really great, but they’ve been warped and used in really interesting ways that are incredibly questionable. So you have these communities of people who are like celebrating and praising and talking to each other and continuing to repeat the beliefs and the ideologies of the bigger culture, of what we’re tackling here. Right, that’s just a limiting belief, that’s just something you need to clear. That’s a money block. You just have to think of different feelings, thought. That’s not your problem, right, whatever the, the languaging or the patterns are. But essentially what’s happening is we start to take these feelings of questioning and wondering like, is this actually right? This isn’t working, and we begin actually gaslighting ourselves. We say, well, i’m the problem, i should heal more and need to believe more and to get rid of that limiting belief. I need to, whatever it is. You’re being sold And the entire community is echoing the same thing And it feels like you’re the crazy one. It feels like there’s something wrong with you and it can feel incredibly isolating, incredibly disorienting, and there’s this sense of hopelessness that comes online. But we’re also continuing to have to push through, because what you’re being told and sold to do is to fake it until you make it, is to show up in your power, is to believe and get rid of limiting beliefs, and this is the issue.
The other part of this that kind of ties us all together is that echo chamber. When we’re looking at social media and we’ll tackle the social media business model and the merchant attention, merchant business model in one of the future episodes But what we’re looking at here is that echo chamber, that highly engaged community that’s being incentivized and rewarded to constantly show up and interact and do all of the things, is boosting social engagement and reach on the algorithm, which is really unfortunate, because then we see all the stuff of the people that we probably don’t want to be seeing, but it creates this false sense of credibility. That creates this false sense of community, because we’re looking on social media and we’re seeing wow, there’s so many comments, there’s so many likes, there’s so many views, there’s so much engagement. It has to be trustworthy, but what you’re not seeing are all of the comments, all of the opposition that is being completely wiped down because folks aren’t open to the idea of critique and healthy critique. We’re not demonizing and saying you’re an evil person. It’s critiquing and questioning things. There’s not space for that in this type of culture, because that’s a limiting belief that you just need to get rid of. And so the amplification of social engagement is actually something that platforms like TikTok, instagram, facebook profit from, and the reason being and we’re going to go deep into this in the next episode here is because these platforms want you spending as much time as possible on their platforms, so they reward the engagement and the time that you spend and they continue to push that content because folks are engaging with it And that’s how that’s part of their business model, how to make money, and we’ll talk about that in the next episode, but essentially, again you’ll see this all interconnects because, as that content is getting more engagement, the platforms are saying oh great, yes, continue to do what you’re doing because people are staying on here longer and we’re collecting more data.
Thus, the perpetuation of the laptop lifestyle lies And that, folks, is the performative business model and toxic capitalism. Why is it toxic? It’s toxic because it’s selling this ideology that more and more and more is always the answer more growth, more healing, more money, do it faster, do it in less time And oftentimes to no end, to no avail, to no consequence of what the repercussions of our actions actually are. We just ignore it or we just throw money at it and think that’s going to solve it. But the reality is we’re not looking at the whole picture here. We’re not looking at the whole picture here. We’re not looking at the picture here. We’re not seeing all of the subtle ways that this way of operating in the world of doing business, of marketing, of selling, how it’s negatively impacting and eating at us, both on the individual and collective level, and this is why, in my personal belief system, it’s an incredibly problematic way of doing business. So that is it for today’s episode and summarizing this model.
Obviously, there is no way in hell I could fit all of this into an Instagram reel. Hopefully, you’re starting to understand CY, but if you do find this helpful. Like I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this episode, subscribing to the podcast leaving reviews is one of the most beautiful ways that you could support this, and you can also do that anonymously. I know some of the topics that we’re going to be talking about are fairly sensitive, and so I want to acknowledge and name that, especially as we start to get into heavier conversations the anti-racism of trauma, which we will in future episodes. But I think the biggest thing that I want to leave you with today is, if you are in the process of unpacking this concept, you’re not alone. There are people who see it too, and there is a different way. So, that being said, thank you for being here, thank you for listening in, and if you have questions, you can always email support at the sacred period CEO, and that’ll be in the show notes as well. All right, y’all. I will see you in the next episode. Bye.


Welcome to the Sophie Kessner podcast, where we’re exploring the world of performative business and toxic capitalism. Join me as I break down the concept of performative business and how it has the potential to be problematic when used to sell luxury and personal empowerment. Discover the importance of understanding the core components of this marketing model to ensure it’s used ethically and equitably. Let’s also discuss the concept of living in abundance and the cost of maintaining this ideology, as well as examining how toxic capitalism can disorient and warp great ideas into questionable practices.

In this episode, we take a closer look at the toxicity of performative business and the consequences of toxic capitalism. Listen in as I explain how the instant success myth sets unrealistic expectations and how the hustle culture is disguised as feminine empowerment, luxury lifestyle, and ease and flow. Learn about the issue of paying and selling proximity to power, which can lead to high anxiety and dependency on external factors. Finally, let’s unpack the false idea that more is always the answer and discuss the consequences of this way of operating in the world. Don’t miss this insightful conversation on the impact of toxic capitalism in our lives.

Chapters & Key Points

Toxic Capitalism and Performative Business (21 Minutes)

I discuss performative business and toxic capitalism. I define performative business as a way to monetize and commodify our personal lives and create a personal brand that is selling a service or product online. I then unpack why this type of marketing and business has the potential to be problematic and how we can use it in an ethical and equitable way. I also provide insight into luxury lifestyle brands and personal brands that co-op movements of personal empowerment and the importance of recognizing that we are not demonizing or attacking anyone who uses these practices.

The Cost of Living in Abundance (6 Minutes)

We explore the idea of living in abundance and the cost of trying to maintain this ideology. We look at real numbers, like spending $5,000 a month on programs, on top of the basic cost of living. We also discuss how the hustle culture is disguised as feminine empowerment, luxury lifestyle, and ease and flow. Furthermore, we examine the issue of paying and selling proximity to power and how this leads to high anxiety and dependency on external factors.

Toxic Capitalism in Business (9 Minutes)

We examine the toxicity of performative business and toxic capitalism. We explain how this model can disorient and discombobulate people, how it has the potential to warp and use great pieces in questionable ways, and how it creates an isolated echo chamber that gaslights opposition. We also discuss how the merchant attention and merchant business model incentivize and reward this type of engagement, and how social media platforms amplify this to increase their reach and social engagement. Finally, we unpack how this model perpetuates the false idea that more is always the answer and the consequences of this way of operating in the world.

Episode Keywords:

Performative Business, Toxic Capitalism, Luxury Lifestyle Brands, Personal Empowerment, Hustle Culture, Abundance, Proximity to Power, Anxiety, Dependency, Merchant Attention, Merchant Business Model, Social Media Platforms, False Idea, More is Always the Answer, Consequences, Ethical, Equitable, Demonizing, Attacking, Disorient, Discombobulate, Warping, Isolated Echo Chamber, Gaslighting, Incentivize, Reward, Amplify, Reach, Social Engagement

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Meet The Host

Hey I’m Soph! I’m a mama and online digital marketer who’s been in the game since 2015. I LOVE building businesses that support creating real time freedom which is why I choose to specialize in email marketing, blogging and podcasting and teach others to do the same.

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I'm Sophie Kessner
Performative Business

First generation Mexican American mama that’s gone from hood to strategic hustle. I’ve spent the last 10+ years inside the personal development space supporting 100’s of coaches in scaling 6 figure businesses online & supported 4 different companies in surpassing the 7 figure mark. Today, I focus on making scaling more sustainable by integrating the lenses of business, systems, automation and CEO Development through an Equity centered and Trauma informed lens.

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Sophie is the founder of The Sacred CEO™ Agency and has been in the service based coaching industry since 2015. She’s created and scaled 4 different multi 6 figure coaching programs including their latest course, The Online Business Automator.

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