“Just be yourself and all will be fine!” has got to be one of the most cliché pieces of advice.
Like most people, you’ve probably received it from a friend at some point. Most likely it had something to do with dating. Or maybe in your case it was about a job interview, speaking in front of a crowd or your first porn audition (I’m not judging you, Wotan ?).
Again like most people, you may have tried it and concluded it was useless advice given by naive people. If not, you likely have enough anecdotal evidence from others to still think this particular piece of advice is pretty bad:
• I tried doing stand-up comedy once. “Just be yourself” they said. I did and they all hated me!
• My buddy is the sweetest guy ever. So when he follows this advice he always ends up in the friend zone.
• I was totally being myself during that porn audition but I got fired for doing the helicopter in every shot. Now I’m broke and my kids don’t respect me anymore.
But what if I told you that “just being yourself” actually is amazing advice? …and that none of the people in the above examples were truly being themselves?(Except for the guy doing the helicopter, that guy was awesome. Hope you get a better job soon!)
What Do You Mean, “Not being Yourself”?
If that first person is going up in front of a crowd and she’s being all nervous, and shaky, causing all her jokes to bomb, she is not being herself.
You could argue “Yes she is! It’s part of her personality to be nervous about that stuff.”
Maybe. But she’s nervous because she has a hard time acting like her normal self in front of so many people.
If she was really being himself in that moment, that would mean she’s always stuttering and shaking.
Now let’s have a look at the second guy: Is he being himself?
Again the answer is no. He may naturally be sweet guy, good for him. But he wasn’t being himself. Or else he wouldn’t complain about becoming their friend. Acting like a friend all the time while you are sexually attracted to someone is not being yourself at all. It’s being dishonest. Nice guys get laid all the time. It is not his “niceness” that put him in the friendzone. it’s the fact that he was doing it in effort to manipulate or hide his true intentions.
Even when we think we are, most of the time we are not fully being ourselves.
Maybe we are being our “work-selves”, our “drunk-selves” or our “instagram-selves”. But while all those personas contain aspects of who we really are, they are just roles we play to protect us from truly being ourselves. Because that would make us very vulnerable to taking criticism or rejection personally.
Even in one-on-one conversations we are not being our true selves. Think about how many times you got a text from your crush and asked your friend “What would be the best thing to reply?” instead of just answering something that is a genuine expression of your personality.
It’s funny that we do this because it makes no sense. You like someone, and you want to see if he actually likes you too, right? So what do you do? Instead of showing who you are, you tone down or change your message to make sure they don’t respond negatively.
But you know what would be the worst? If he actually fell in love with that modified version of you and you’d have to keep playing that role forever. You’d always have to think twice to check if you’re saying the right thing to get the response you’re hoping for. Instead of being able to relax when you’re together. And if one day you finally were honest, he might not even like the real you. Then was all a waste of time and energy.
I think none of us would want a relationship/friendship with a person that doesn’t even like us. Or to spend most of our work days acting as if we’re somebody else. Still this fear to expose our true self is often rooted so deeply that we’d rather keep it safely tucked away where no one can hurt us. At some point in our lives we may have concluded hat’s the smart thing to do. I know I have. But if that sounds like you, you might not realise that by doing this, you are also withholding a lot of amazing things from yourself.
What Does It Mean to Be Yourself?
Now that you know what it’s like to not be yourself, you might start to wonder what it would mean to “just be yourself”.
Following this advice would mean being comfortable with the person that you are. And not holding back or tempering your personality in any way, in any situation.
Let’s say you are:
• At work/school
• Among friends
• Among strangers
• On a first date
• At a family dinner
• In the bedroom
• On television
Are you comfortable exposing any weird/unique/quirky/taboo sides of your personality in these situations? I don’t mean blatantly rubbing them in everyone’s faces for no reason. But if the subject came up, would you be open about it even if you know there was a chance people would react negatively?
And would it matter if they did? Would you feel worse going along with the general opinion or sticking up for yourself?
The reason I mentioned these “weird/taboo” opinions is because those are the easiest situations in which to monitor if you are being yourself or not. Since those sides of your personality are what sets you apart from the crowd.
If someone says to me that non-monogamy is cruel, or that “all black people are criminals”, I know my opinion is different from theirs and that I would not be myself if I nodded in agreement.
It gets a little trickier when you get to simple everyday interactions though. Because to know you’re “being yourself” , you would thave to know who you are in the first place.
Do you really know who you are?
It takes a certain level of self-awareness and self-acceptance to be able to truly be yourself. And while the “just be yourself” advice sounds easy, it actually can be quite hard if you haven’t cultivated those things.
Have you ever asked yourself questions like the following:
• What are your core values?
• What do you love or hate most in this life?
• What do you love or hate most about yourself?
• Why do you react the way you do in certain situations?
• What things about yourself do you find hard to admit?
• What do you take a stand for?
• What do you want to contribute to this world?
• What meaning do you want your life to have in the bigger picture of things?
• Why do you do what you do and feel what you feel?
If you’re not entirely sure at this point, that’s okay. I think most people aren’t.
But it’s worth spending a lot of time to get to know that (wo)man in the mirror, because that’s the person you will spend the most time with in your entire life.
Can you look yourself in the eyes for a full minute, saying “I love everything about you” and mean it?
Can you sit alone in darkness and silence for an hour and still feel just great?
If not, I invite you to make it your #1 goal right now. Because everything you’ll ever do in life, whether it would be interacting with other people, working on your career or taking a bathroom break, you’ll have to do it together with yourself.
The Power of Vulnerability
I bet, that just like me, you have already experienced the “downside” of being yourself.
When you open up on a deep level, you make yourself vulnerable to rejection, criticism and more. But once you completely accept yourself you will see that these possible negative reactions don’t even matter that much.
Why do you want to be liked by everyone?
Do you somehow need their opinion to validate the fact that you are a “cool person”?
Why not get that validation from yourself?
Why would you want to spend time with people who don’t like the real you, if you know the real you and truly love her?
Not everyone has to like you. Big deal, move on. Go talk to some other people and find the ones that do want to have fun with you.
Chances are, you will like them better too.
As far as secrets go: They wouldn’t exist anymore. You would now accept the bad things you’ve done in the past and the mistakes you’ve made so you’d be comfortable with having them out in the open any way.
Still sounds scary to you?
I used to feel like that. I had so many negative experiences during my childhood that I always felt like it wasn’t okay to be myself. I know I liked who I was, but I felt like I had no place in this world. Why would I bother to open up if people reacted negatively all the time?
I felt disconnected from all other people. And depending on my mood I would either feel like the only smart person alive in a world filled with idiots or like the only one with a serious brain defect. I think both those perspective are completely wrong and definitely not very productive when it comes to relationships ?
About half a year ago I started to consciously make myself more vulnerable in all situations. I took the “be yourself” advice to heart. Even when “negative consequences” seemed unavoidable. I still fail at it sometimes. But the results have been astonishing when it comes to how much it can both simplify and enrich your life.
When Going Out
Some nights, I feel more introverted and somehow “the crowd” intimidates me. So I’ll act more guarded and actually feel very anxious to approach someone I would want to get to know. Because I fear the “ridicule” of getting rejected. On one level it’s comforting to know almost everyone feels some form of social anxiety some times. But I do sometimes struggle with accepting this part of me.
Other nights I go out and I am so much “myself” that people can sense it. On those nights I constantly get approached by people who are into me. Not just women and gay guys. Even drunk straight guys. It seems almost too good to be true. Those same nights casual acquaintances will suddenly open up to me about their deepest secrets. And we’ll become more intimate friends because of it.
For the moment, even though I love the second scenario most (wouldn’t you?), the first one happens just as much.
There’s a clear pattern though: The second one happens when I follow the “just be yourself” advice. The first one happens when I am too scared to truly follow that advice.
Facebook or Blog Posts
I’ll admit that I have 2 reasons for posting these things on Facebook (edit: that eventually turned into this blog). The main reason is to make a contribution. While becoming more aware of my own personal shortcomings and insecurities, I started to notice how they were not unique to me and a lot of people are struggling with the same issues.
I hope that by sharing these things I can inspire or help those people to make similar changes and feel more happy and alive every day.
Thee other reason is that it’s a way of forcing myself to be more vulnerable publicly.
Everyone can read these, including family members, co-workers or people that have bad intentions. If I want to share what I learned, it often involves me sharing some not so pretty things about myself: Past mistakes, insecurities, unpopular opinions, etc. Apparently it also makes me vulnerable to typos ?
This is an exercise in “just being myself” in an online setting. What I didn’t expect, was that because of it, similar things started to happen as in the example about going out. Even though some people dislike these posts and view them as preachy, I often get private messages from people who say “I’ve been following you. We have similar interests and I think we should get along very well, want to meet up?”
Once again, not holding back to show people who I am is what allows me to attract people into my life that could be a good match for me.
It also repels people who wouldn’t, since they can read this up front, I’m a pretentious douche and avoid all future contact with me ?
When Talking Privately
When I meet new people in a one-on-one setting, I often skip the small talk and try to open up right away. Sometimes it pisses people off and they don’t like who I am. That ruins the mood for about 10 minutes, then we get over it. It’s not even that bad that we both want to go home or anything. We accept that we don’t like each other, then spend the rest of the encounter a little more distant and agree to disagree.
It’s only when you take this seriously that you start getting offensive. People are used to these interactions ending in an unfriendly manner. If you don’t get mad when they don’t like you, they are actually surprised and start to like you just a little more. Now at least you’ll both get along.
Other times I found myself working with people for the first day and having so many good conversations with co-workers that I thought to myself “I’m really happy I don’t spend my work days talking about the weather.“
Or I’ve had days when I met someone for the first time, opened up and felt this crazy deep connection with that person, where I could sense we were both thinking “Where have you been all my life?”
I’ve had these moments both with men and women and I suspect you will too. Would you really want to rob yourself of those moments? I personally wouldn’t want to miss them for the world.
Here are some of the reasons why the social effects of “just being yourself” are so drastic:
1. If you truly know and respect yourself, other people will. If you are willing to tone down or change who you are, they will sense it and unconsciously relate to you in a more dominating way.
2. We all want to meet people who love us. Unless you are completely yourself though it is not possible for anyone to hire you, become friends with you or fall in love with you. You have to give them a chance to get to know you, or they’ll do the same thing with an illusion and you’ll both be disappointed later
3. If you are fully being yourself, others will feel it’s okay for them to be themselves around you as well. A relationship comes from both sides, you cannot connect with people who are not being their true selves. I think everyone is longing for the kind of friends they can safely do the helicopter around (I don’t know, nor do I want to know what the female equivalent of that is, so sorry for not including you, women!) . So if they know you could be that person, they love it.
Vulnerability actually doesn’t make you vulnerable at all unless you give too many fudges. I think vulnerability is actually true strength, not weakness. Putting up walls around yourself to avoid making yourself vulnerable is the weaker option. Since it implies you are afraid of getting hurt and not being strong enough to deal with it. It also hurts you more than simply making yourself vulnerable, because it sabotages your relationships with people.
For that reason alone I will keep lowering my barriers until I have made it an unconscious habit to be vulnerable and naked in all situations. I think if you did too, you’d find not only you’d connect more deeply with everyone but you’d become more happy and free every day as well ?
When you can truly be yourself and be secure about it, you have nothing to worry about. No secrets to get out, no criticism to take personally. You can walk through life with ease and attract the people in your life that are a good match for me, while automatically keeping out the people who you wouldn’t do well with, without having to reject them.
Isn’t that what we all want?