Just Be Yourself?…

Something I’ve been wondering for some time now: what exactly is meant by the phrase ‘just be yourself’? I take it to mean something like ‘don’t change your behavior in order to appeal to (or gain the approval of) others’.

On the one hand, how can you be anything but yourself? Even if you’re acting in a different way in a certain social setting, it’s still you doing the acting. On the other hand, the phrase clearly distinguishes between two types of behavior, and we can easily recognize someone either being or not being themselves.

But while ‘just be yourself’ may be useful as a description, I think it’s terrible as prescription (read: advice). Just how do you follow it? The fact that it’s defined in a negative way (a non-apple) certainly doesn’t help.

My attempt: what would you be doing if you weren’t seeking the approval of others? I would want to do something I enjoy (as simple as it sounds), or perhaps something I felt I had to do.

Flipping the definition: ‘do what you genuinely enjoy, or follow your goals and what you feel is right, disregarding others’ approval as much as possible.’ (Unless you agree with their tastes and opinions)’

Easier said than done, has been my experience. The ironic thing is: frequently, your perception of others’ opinions will be inaccurate anyway, and other people will prefer the version of ’you’ just doing whatever you enjoy doing. (Though this is never guaranteed: if you’re hiding your diagnosis as a psychopath, comforting platitudes will do little to change this fact ;))

I’ve definitely gone through a stage in my teenage years where I wanted to shed my (computer-) nerdy reputation, aiming to replace it with a… well, TV series-inspired… character?

To state the immediately obvious: it didn’t make me very happy. The gains from doing what you actually enjoy doing are greater than the gains of being approved and liked by others, though what really flipped the switch for me was finding both. In programmer (hacker) culture, knowledge, contribution and nerdiness determine status, and the artists’ community celebrates things like creativity, weirdness and self-expression.

Besides finding a group/subculture you click with, having a set of friends who appreciate you despite (or because of!) all your peculiarities, nearly eliminates the need to beg for more approval, as you always have a safe ‘home base’ to return to.

The best way of dealing with insecurity for me has been sharing it all directly. There’s no need to hide when there’s nothing left to hide. Perhaps you’ll even hear recognition in return.

(^ Yeah, I threw up at the smoothness of that last paragraph too :))

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