You’re apprehensive and uncertain. Are you good enough for this? Can you handle the situation? Win the day? Stare down the threat? Fortunately, your good friend is with you, calmly looks you in the eyes and whispers forcefully “You’ve got this. Just be yourself.” And you are reassured. Their kindness in the moment gives you support: you are good enough as you are, you don’t have to pretend to be anything you are not, you can make it, you are meaningful.
But what does it actually mean to “be yourself”? Does it even make any sense at all? Looking back over your life, has there been anytime when you haven’t been yourself? To be genuine, to not be fake, to stand for some something and to have core values you live by is certainly a worthwhile and commendable standard. But being yourself doesn’t necessarily contribute to this.
Be yourself is no advice whatsoever because you cannot ever be anything other than yourself. And that self never stays the same anyway. “Don’t care what the world says/ I’n’I could never go astray” as Bob Marley put it.
All that is here, in this moment, is you. You have been made by all those previous moments of you and right now you are helping cause those future moments of you. So it is not possible to act in any manner that could be described as not you. Someone could truthfully observe, “That was out of character.” but only as they don’t have a full view of your thoughts and emotions and personal history. Because this well-meaning advice comes from such a position of partial knowledge and maybe ignorance, advising someone to just be yourself can be unhelpful or even damaging. Any creativity you might have brought to the situation is severely limited by being told to ‘act as I would expect you to’ or ‘as would be expected of you’. This is one reason why the older I have become the more I trust the friends I have known for decades. Even if they know nothing of my present situation because we haven’t met up in far too long, they still have a broader and fuller knowledge of what makes up and has made up what I am today.
So instead of staying within the boundaries of some falsely prescribed idea of self, why not take a leap and act in a manner others may think is not yourself. You are of course still you; just maybe not what they think is or should be you. By doing this you could find a more honest and creative way of being as well as come to a better of understanding of what your self is and what it is not.
Original idea for this post from ‘Wheesht” by Kate Davies https://www.wheeshtbook.com
And that image at the top is by Cindy Sherman’s IG @CindySherman