How many times have you been told to ‘just be yourself’?
It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, just be yourself.
We hear it in the lead up to job interviews, presentations, speeches, first dates, and all manner of situations in which we seek the reassurance of others.
Don’t sweat it. Just be yourself. They will love you.
There is of course, a strong chance that this could all be bollocks.
What does it mean to be yourself, and why would that would make you so likeable to every man and his dog? Or to put it another way; who are you, and why should anybody care?
We are not static creatures. We feel happy, we get sad, we get pissed off with people, we are kind to some and horrible to others, and we never really know how we are going to be until a given situation arises. Sometimes you are the consummate professional, gliding through work tasks like a hot knife through butter. At other times, you are the petulant child, kicking up a fuss like a poodle with the same hot knife up its arse. You are probably a solitary creature and a party animal in equal measure. You may well be a parent, a spouse, a lover, a fighter and a dancer. In fact, there are many aspects of you that could adequately define you as being ‘you’. Let’s face it, you’re a mixed bag. In fact, you are probably a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so what can possibly be meant by the words be yourself?
If you are talking to a work colleague, they may see ‘yourself’ as a professional powerhouse (or, I suppose, a lazy bastard), and the words ‘be yourself’ would mean ‘behave as you do at work’. To your drinking friends, it would mean to behave as you would when you are out on the town. To your children, it would mean play with me or pretend to be a horse again. You see, ‘be yourself’ is rendered utterly meaningless by the fact that you change your behaviour and attitudes in accordance with your surroundings and the people with whom you share them.
Go to the pub in your best suit, drink tonic water, make polite conversation, and your mates will think you’re being a tool. They’ll be right as well. The pub isn’t the place for the professional you. By the same token, if you go to your next business presentation in ripped jeans and a Motorhead T-shirt, with pint of cider in one hand and a fag in the other, then you are liable to be pawning your business suit quite soon. Business meetings are not the venue for the pub you. There are many yous, and each one has its place.
In reality, the only thing that makes you who you are is the part that chooses which particular ‘you’ to pull out of the bag on any given occasion. If you get that right the majority of the time, people will see you as a decent human being, a great laugh and a fine friend. Get it wrong on a regular basis, and everyone will think you’re a cock.
But really, does it matter what people think? Well of course not. All you really need to do is be yourself. It may leave you lonely, unemployed, and miserable, but at least you can say that you tried.
So, what’s the alternative? Should we pretend to be someone other than ourselves? Should we become fake? Should we deceive people?
In more positive circles, we refer to this as stepping out of your comfort zone or learning from experience. Perhaps ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ would be better advice.
Almost every successful person you know is making it (and themselves) up as they go along. They get through life by making guesses, and the more they do it, the more educated those guesses become. Not only that, but the more educated those guesses become, the more they become part of what makes those people appear as they do to others.
It’s all rather like a magic trick. When a performer creates a miracle in front of your eyes, you see them as a magician; a creator of wonders. You don’t think of them taking a dump or scratching their more personal areas. The fact that you are watching a person just like you pretending to be somebody else doesn’t bother you at all because you have entered into a tacit agreement. They pretend to be something other than themselves and you don’t question it too thoroughly.
Your teachers at school were the same; they were just pretending. Your doctor, your sporting hero, your parents, your secret crush, your favourite musician, your number one artist, your most admired thinker, and the bloke who fixes your car are people just like you who have affected a different persona to adapt to the circumstances under which you meet them. They are insecure and vulnerable in exactly the same way as you are. They make mistakes, they worry, they lose sleep, they have likely shat the bed at some point in their lives. They are fallible humans. They are just as crap as the rest of us.
The last thing you want them to be is themselves. Why should you be any different?
So, for goodness sake, don’t just be yourself. Try to be something better!
Minister of Stuff.