Why ‘be yourself’ is terrible advice

An overused and cliché phrase

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Why ‘be yourself’ is terrible advice

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Rithika Senthilkumar, Collegian Columnist

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“Just be yourself.” How many times have we heard this phrase before?

We have all been told this at some point in our lives, and likely, we have said it to someone else. We love to use it as advice to a friend, a caption for social media or a motivational poster on the wall. We throw it around like confetti, believing that following that one piece of advice will make any difficult situation better. And why wouldn’t we believe it? Not only does it give us an incredible sense of security and certainty, but it also seems easy enough to do. In actuality, “be yourself” is a terrible piece of advice.

It seems obvious that in order to be one’s true self, it would be a requirement to know what one’s true self is. The reality, however, is that most of us don’t entirely know who we are. We are constantly changing and evolving, constantly figuring out what we like, what we don’t like, how we react in certain situations, how we feel about certain things, what role we play in social circles and so on. We learn from our experiences and circumstances as we move through life and that includes learning about ourselves.

It is not possible – and does not make sense – to try to be yourself all the time when you are still in the process of becoming yourself. This does not only apply to adolescents; not even young adults – or mature adults, for that matter – are done discovering themselves.

Do we really mean it when we tell someone to just be themselves? What good does that advice do them if they have qualities to improve on? Imagine that you tell a friend, who happens to be lazy or arrogant or self-involved, to just be themselves. Would it really be in their best interest to embrace those negative qualities? Wouldn’t they prefer that you, as a friend, encourage them to improve themselves?

In fact, the misleading advice to “be yourself” not only encourages bad personal qualities but also brings about something worse. It encourages an attitude of increased self-importance – an attitude of “I will be me, and everyone else can deal with it.” Unfortunately, that is not a suitable attitude with which to go about one’s life. Flexibility and adaptability are important qualities in navigating through life, and an attitude of self-importance would be setting you up for failure.

So, how do we motivate people to live and speak their truth without resorting to the overused and worn-out blanket statement “be yourself?” For one, acknowledging and appreciating authenticity goes a long way. To be authentic is to first know and understand yourself. It is to understand who you wish to be and curate your actions accordingly. It is to know your value and live for yourself and not for anyone else.

The beauty behind authenticity is that once you find your authentic self, you will not want to be anything different. It will feel wrong to be anything different. You will fight society’s pressure to conform to be your authentic self, and more importantly, you will not need anyone to tell you to “be yourself.” However, authenticity takes time, experience and a whole lot of introspection. Most young people are just not there yet.

In the meantime, “don’t be something you’re not” or “be the best version of yourself” are much better pieces of advice to give. It is much easier to recognize when you are doing something that does not feel right to you. Similarly, it is much easier to recognize when a part of yourself could be improved. And living according to these phrases might even make your path to authenticity easier.

There are many ways for one to get to the point of living life authentically, but one thing is clear: it is high time that we put the cliché and meaningless phrase “be yourself” to rest.

Rithika Senthilkumar is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]