"Just be yourself and all will be fine!" has got to be one of the most cliché pieces of advice that ever gets thrown around.
Like most people, you probably received it from a good friend someday. 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 have probably tried it and concluded it was the most useless piece of crap advice anyone ever gave you. And if not, you've got enough anecdotal evidence from other people to know that if there's one advice you shouldn't follow it's this one:
• 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.
What if I told you that "just being yourself" actually is the best advice ever? And that none of those guys in the above examples were truly being themselves? Except for the guy doing the helicopter dick, that guy was awesome. Hope you get a better job soon!
Before you get all worked up and defensive about this, think about it for a second:
If that first guy is going up in front of a crowd and he's being all nervous, stuttery and shaky ,causing all his jokes to bomb, he is not being himself.
You could argue "Yes he is! It's part of his personality to be nervous about that stuff."
Well, yeah. But he's nervous because he has a hard time acting like his normal self in front of so many people, which would mean opening himself up to negative responses on such a large scale.
If he was really being himself, he would always be stuttering and shaking, in which case the jokes would've worked because he was truly just expressing himself, just look at Timmy in South Park. (Okay he's not real but my point is clear.) He'd also have a bigger problem to deal with called "Parkinson's disease".
Now let's have a look at the second guy: Is he being himself?
Not fully. Maybe he's a naturally 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 in reality you want to get super freaky with her is not being yourself at all. It's being dishonest. And she's not putting him in the friendzone, he is. Nice guys get laid all the time, but only when they're genuinely nice. Not when they're acting nice in a supplicating manner while secretly wishing it will get them into a girl's pants.
The point is, 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 contain aspects of who we really are, in essence 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 as something personal.
Even privately 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 kind of 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.
You know what would be the worst though? 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 just relax when you're together. And if one day you finally did, he might not even like the real you and it was all a waste of time.
I think none of us would want a relationship/friendship with a person that doesn't even like us, or 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 probably learned that's the smart thing to do. I know I have. But you might not realize that by doing this, you are also withholding a lot of amazing things from yourself, which I'll mention at the end of this rant.
What Does It Mean to Be Yourself?
Now that you know what it's like to not be yourself, and realize we all do it constantly, you might start to wonder then what it would really mean to "just be yourself".
I think truly 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 they'd react negatively?
And would it matter if they did? What possible scenario could be worse than you going along with the general opinion instead of sticking up for yourself?
The reason I mentioned these "weird/taboo" opinions is because those are the easiest situations subjects 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 nonmonogamy or not having a regular job is a bad thing, 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 "just being yourself" you would truly have to know who you are in the first place.
Do you really, truly know who you are?
(Please don't say a level 33 wizard or I'll facepalm myself so hard I'll have to walk around with red fingerprints on my face for the rest of the day.)
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 like the most easy thing every, it actually can be quite hard since most of us never took the time to reach that level. Have you ever asked yourself questions like these (I wrote them off the cuff, feel free to switch for anything else):
• 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 stand for?
• What do you want to contribute to this world in your own small or big way?
• 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.
I can tell you this though: It's worth spending some 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 20 minutes and still feel just great?
If not, you should make it your main 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 that person. And if you don't completely fully love yourself, why would anyone else?
The Power of Vulnerability
I bet, like me, you already experienced the downside of being yourself.
When you open up on a deep level you make yourself vulnerable to rejection, criticism, secrets getting out in the open, and more. If you would fully know and accept yourself you would realize that these possible negative reactions don't even matter that much though.
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.
You'll like those better any way since they fit your personality.
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 completely 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 there was something seriously wrong with me and I envied the "normal" people. 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 really try to "just be myself" all the time in all situations, even when "negative consequences" seemed unavoidable. I still fail at it sometimes. Old habits of trying to protect yourself are sneaky bastards. Still the results I got so far totally blew me away, here's some of the things that happened because of opening myself up more:
When Going Out
A lot of nights for some reason 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, even though it makes no sense because I have almost no experience with that. On one level it's comforting to know almost everyone feels some form of social anxiety some times, on another I think it's stupid and wonder why I still feel that way.
Other nights I go out, and I am so "myself" that people can sense it and every 5 minutes I get approached by someone who is seriously into me. Not even just women and gay guys, but even drunk straight guys. Literally, I sometimes have to fight them off
It sounds unbelieveable but I'm not exaggerating, I promise.
It's kind of a trip to experience since 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 better 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, for whatever reason it may be (caring too much about my ego I guess).
When Posting On Facebook
I'll admit that I have 2 reasons for posting these rants 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 around me were 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.
There's also a more "selfish" reason for it, and that is the fact that it's a way of forcing myself to be more vulnerable publicly.
Everyone can read these rants, including family members, co-workers or people that have bad intentions. If I want to share valuable things I learned, it often involves me sharing some not so pretty things about myself: Past mistakes, mental illnesses, fears, insecurities, unpopular opinions, etc. Apparently it also makes me vulnerable to typos 😉
So in a way, this is also "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 above example. Even though a lot of people probably dislike these posts and view them as preachy, I often get private messages from people who read it and say something along the lines of "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, decide I'm a pretentious douchebag and avoid all future contact with me 😉
When Talking One-On-One
When I meet new people in a one-on-one setting, I often skip the small talk and just make myself really vulnerable. Sometimes it pisses people off and they really, really 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 realize 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 kind of criticism personally 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 like you just a little more. They'll never truly like you of course, but 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 around the coffee talking about the weather."
Even better, I've also 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 male friends and with women I met. I have to admit these experiences are very rare though. I can still count the people I had them with on one hand, but if I didn't have the habit of opening up to everyone I met, I would never have known I could feel something like that with those people.
Would you really want to rob yourself of those experiences? 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 it won't happen.
3. If you are fully being yourself, others will realize 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 fucks (remember your fucks are sacred, save them for when it matters). I think vulnerability is actually true strength, not weakness. Putting up walls around yourself to avoid making yourself vulnerable is, since it implies you are afraid of getting hurt again and not being strong enough to deal with it. It also hurts you more than simply making yourself vulnerable, because it sabotages your sex life and 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 🙂
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 you really want and love, while automatically keeping the people who wouldn't be a good match for you out without having to reject them.
Isn't that what we all want?
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