‘Be Yourself’ This is probably one of the most and least helpful pieces of advice that anyone can ever give you and one which is bandied about more than any other. You see it plastered over Facebook and Twitter; people offer it up as the answer to all your problems. For most people it’s just not that easy. A while ago people used the term authentic to describe everything from their brand, their leadership behaviour to their shoes or jeans. Now people talk about ‘being yourself’. Be yourself; in your job, your business, your relationships and practically every other part of your life. So why is it so unhelpful? Why do we struggle to follow what seems like the most simple piece of advice?
Lack of Awareness
As individuals, we all lack a good level of self-awareness; most of us aren’t born with a clear sense of who we are and what our purpose is in life. Furthermore, only a little amount of time is spent schools and society helping people to answer these two questions. Much of our life is about trying to get us to conform to be like everyone else; we can so easily lose sight of what makes us an individual, what makes us special and unique.
And if you don’t know who you truly are, then how will you know what to be like.
We don’t like what we see
The second thing is that what little we do know about ourselves includes lots of things that we don’t like. Whether it is the way that we look, the way that we sound or even our skills and abilities, there are always areas in which we wished we were better. There is also the problem of feeling like we don’t fit in. Through learning more about ourselves, we realise that we are different from those around us. Rather than delighting in this, it can so easily make us feel that we need to change to be like other people. So we may want to love ourselves but we want to love a better version of ourselves, a version that is more like those around us. Therefore, until we improve we find it hard to love ourselves as we are.
And when you don’t love yourself, it is almost impossible to be yourself.
So how can you do it?
Firstly you need to find out more about yourself. Take every opportunity to develop your self-awareness, to learn more about your strengths, abilities and the things that you like. We can do this in so many ways; through personality and strength-based tests, through coaching and mentoring programmes or simply by asking people whom you trust for feedback. Over time, you will build up a picture of how other people see you and what your true capabilities are. You can test each of the things that you discover against your own experiences so you continue to develop and ever increasing knowledge of who you truly are.
Secondly, you need to learn to love yourself as you are. I’m not saying that it’s not important to try and improved yourself, to learn new things and new skills. Loving yourself is different from being satisfied with yourself. What’s important is to accept that at any particular moment you are who you are, that you will always make mistakes and you cannot be perfect all the time. What’s interesting about this, is that it is true for everyone else as well. Accept yourself as a work in progress, as a person who is getting there but is on a journey. Forgive yourself when things do go wrong and when you have made a mistake. Commit yourself to constantly improving, to learning from each of your experiences whether good or bad.
So next time someone tells you to ‘be yourself’, think about how you can know yourself more and how you can love who you are more.
(PS the next time you feel tempted to tell some someone else to ‘be themselves’, think how you can help them to know themselves more or love who they are more)