The Real Reason Why ‘Be Yourself’ Gets a Bum Deal

There are many times when you hear the advice ‘just be yourself’:

  • Meeting new people;
  • In unknown social situations;
  • At an interview;
  • When giving a talk or presentation;
  • Trying to achieve almost anything;
  • Making an application

‘Yourself’ seems pretty quipped to win all the prizes.

So what’s going on? Why are so many of us not being ourselves? It seems like a pretty easy thing to aspire to.

Two little words. Ten letters in total. It doesn’t amount to much and it promises the world.

— BE YOURSELF —

Herein lies the problem. The advice is vague. It doesn’t mean enough in isolation.

Yet ‘Be Yourself’ is often touted as a solution. It is not.

Just stay the way you are and be true to that… Nothing is solved by that. Being yourself is not a talent.

You are not fixed in place. Seek to better your skills and experiences. Find out more. Try harder and keep trying. Hardly same old, same old.

To be yourself is to owe yourself better each day. When you fall, you pick yourself up. You accept and you either move on or you try again. What you don’t do is give up or do something you don’t believe in. Challenge yourself and do new things, but do it with purpose and with your own interests at heart. Do what you need to do, not what you think people would like or expect you to do.

change (photo by Send me adrift)

You are not unchanging. Yourself is a term that exists in many different states. (photo by Send me adrift)

There’s little point in trying to emulate someone else either. Susan Cain makes the point nicely in her book, Quiet:

“Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer.”

However, there are many things you can improve without changing how you are as a person. At the beginning of his career, Mars Dorian was told that a lack of empathy was part of his personality and he should find something that didn’t involve customer communication.

Rejecting the idea that Dorian had a flaw that could not be rectified, he looked to learn and improve his understanding and skills in that area. In his words, “I worked hard to become my best self”.

There we are again. The ‘best self’ is not sticking to your guns and shirking improvement. Neither is it a refusal to learn new things. Being your best self is about discovery, renewal, and at times surprising everyone, including yourself.

The more you strive to be your best self, the more you should embrace change as a necessary part of finding what works for you.

Think about very young children. When a parent delights at how their son or daughter thrives on just being their own person, they acknowledge a child that is learning all the time and adapting to their circumstances.

Let’s recap. To be yourself is to find what works for you at any given time. To be yourself is to question your actions. To be yourself is to embrace change in yourself and have the confidence to accept you’re not perfect and that you’re always learning.

How often are you told to be yourself on those terms? No wonder it gets a bum deal.