You Shouldn’t “Just Be Yourself”: Breakout of the Personality Prison
You are Free to Change and Become Who You Want to Be.
We’ve all been told and have said those well intended words: “Just be yourself.” It is a universal, friendly and dare I say; often mindlessly dealt out advice — “Hey… just be yourself…”
The question I’ve been asking myself lately is: What is “yourself”?
What exactly is “yourself”? What you or others think is yourself was made up. It did not exist. It was made up by you and the circumstances and people that shaped you into this self.
In most cases this ‘yourself’ was made up unconsciously and I think you can agree with me that if you were creating this ‘self’ consciously with intentional design there are somethings about your personality that you would have made differently. Perhaps a little bit more outgoing, a little bit more humorous, a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more decisive, a little bit less concerned about what other people think…
The good news is; if yourself was made up, could it be remade and it still remains yourself? Absolutely. So why “just be yourself.” Why not make yourself instead? Why not make yourself in the way you now want to be instead of defaulting to what was created somehow on autopilot?
If I remain who I’ve always been, I’ll always get what I’ve always gotten and be where I’ve always been
Notice that the circumstances and even the people that shaped you this self might have changed but you remain stuck with the self that they created or start seeking out similar circumstances and people to keep that self relevant.
Nevertheless, “Just be yourself” is good advice in many situations. I appreciate it myself sometimes because it validates who I am and have been. Also, I understand the discomfort that comes with acting in a way that’s different from how you’ve always behaved. Behaving different can feel unnatural, and in-genuine. You can even feel like a fraud if you decide to change somethings about yourself.
But the problem that remains with the “just be yourself” advice is that it encourages us to be who we’ve always been, instead of nudging us to become who we now deeply want to become and prefer to be. Truth be told, a lot of people feel like they haven’t yet fully become who they feel they are and envision to be. And they are right. No matter who or what you are, there’s a better you to become. You know this.
So, when people say “Just be yourself”, they are saying that “I know you to be a certain person, I like that person, be that person”. It suggests falling back to their perceived version of who you are. What if their perception, what they think is yourself, isn’t actually your true self? What if it is something you created for better or for worse, consciously or unconsciously, as a coping mechanism to the difficulties in your life at some point? Don’t just be yourself then. Become yourself. Become the person that you envision and want to be.
“Becoming is better than being” __Carol S. Dweck
Top level example: Some people who are introverts want to develop a some extrovert qualities and rightly so because it will make them more dynamic and serve them well. Just be yourself is not gonna encourage them to face the discomfort of getting out of their natural zone.
Therefore, don’t just be yourself when what you would rather do is become a different ‘self’ that you deeply want. Enhancing your personality with qualities you didn’t have before is not you not being yourself. It is you becoming a better self, a higher self — it is you creating your desired self. Why just be your old self when you could create a better “yourself” that you want?
You know why. Because it is extremely uncomfortable. It is very uncomfortable and even awkward to suddenly start behaving differently than you’ve always behaved. It is uncomfortable for you and for the people who know you. You feel weird, look weird, feel uneasy, look uneasy and people who care about you will notice. When they do, they think that you’re struggling to become something that you’re not. Hence the “Just be yourself” advice.
Let such people who care about you know when you decide to develop new qualities that are likely to make you and them uncomfortable. Request they help you achieve your goal. This will give them a correct frame through which to see and judge your conduct. They will not think that you are not being yourself. They will rather look out for how well you are doing at becoming your new self with new qualities and give you the feedback you need to “become”.
“Just be yourself” in the way that you actually want to be?
“Just be yourself” when you would rather be a different self?