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.


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.

Taking the Essay Journey

Is life one big journey? Or is life a lot of smaller journeys?

Whatever way you look at it, your journey belongs to you. And the same should be said of your coursework.

photo by Matthias Rhomberg
photo by Matthias Rhomberg

Whether you see your assignments as a long journey, or a range of shorter journeys brought together, the finished piece should also take the reader on a journey.

The journey analogy helps to show that while introductions are different to conclusions, the two still need to be related to make the most of the adventure.

An introduction is an invitation for the reader to come on a journey with you.

You outline where you’re headed and why you’ve decided to take this path. You may even suggest a couple of stop off points along the way so the reader is ready to take some mental photographs of the best views.

A conclusion allows you to sum up what you’ve explored and how you feel about it.

Now is your chance to evaluate the situation, discuss the destination you’ve chosen, and allow readers to either go home or press on and explore further.

Views are subjective.

Not everyone likes looking out to sea. Some are more interested in mountains before them.

Your introduction won’t suggest that the sea is better than the mountains. Your conclusion won’t suggest that you’ve proved how mountain-loving idiots are just plain wrong.

Your introduction will point out the amazing range of views to be had and that you’re about to explore some of them. Your conclusion will point out why, given the adventure you’ve just had, you feel the sea is pretty darn awesome and why it may give mountains a run for their money.

Map our the journey clearly

Make sure your introduction and conclusion are headed in the same direction. The last thing you want is to tell everyone that you’re about to take a journey to the sea and send everyone off to the mountains instead. It’ll only end in tears and confusion.

Don’t be afraid to make the journey your own

Steve Jobs sadly passed away on October 5 2011. As co-founder, CEO and Chairman of Apple, Jobs had a thing or three to say about setting out your own path:

“The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process.” – Steve Jobs [Source]

Creating your own journey doesn’t have to exclude others from understanding the relevance of the path you have travelled. Neither does it mean you’ll ignore everyone else along the way. If Jobs had done either of these things, Apple and its products wouldn’t have enjoyed the success they have.

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs [2005┬áStanford Commencement Address]

Journeys aren’t just for essays. I hope every journey you take is special. You can make each and every pathway your own. You don’t need to be another Steve Jobs or another anyone else. You need to be YOU.

As Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.