“Be yourself” is wonderfully versatile piece of advice. Whether you’re looking for ways to improve your blogging skills or your love life, someone will invariably suggest that you just need to be yourself and success will follow. Got an empty page and nothing to say? Write about things you find interesting. Want to come up with a great product idea or a profitable niche? Examine your interests and skills; solve a problem that you would like to be solved and sell the solution. Too socially inept to find a girlfriend/boyfriend? Stop worrying and just be yourself. Someone will surely find that attractive (and if they don’t like the real you, well, they obviously weren’t right for you anyway).
On the other hand, it’s blindingly obvious that this approach doesn’t quite mesh with another frequently repeated truism : “People don’t care about YOU”. You don’t need to be a jagged cynic to realise that this is true – for example, everyone knows that you can’t just blog about what you had for breakfast and expect to get thousands of visitors. Likewise, selling any random thing that you think is cool won’t work either – you need to do market research first and determine if there is any demand for your product.
So one has to wonder – what does “be yourself” really mean, and does it have any practical value?
“Be Like Me”
People who sincerely believe in the “be yourself” mantra are usually operating under the assumption that since it worked well for them, it will also work for you. This is a very common mistake that we all make from time to time. We tend to assume other people are mostly like ourselves, so things that are easy for us should also be easy for everyone else. For example, as a self-confessed geek, I’m constantly surprised at how “normal” people can make the dumbest mistakes when dealing with computers.
As it turns out, when someone says “be yourself”, what they actually mean is “be like me“.
The “be yourself” advice is only really useful when the advice-giver elaborates on what qualities in particular they want you to develop. Perhaps they think that being yourself means being more honest or more outspoken. Or maybe what they really mean is you should be ready to take risks and more confident about your choices. Either way, there needs to be something specific to go on. “Be yourself” by itself is meaningless, a null operator.
Even if they don’t specify what exactly they mean by “being yourself”, you can sometimes figure it out on your own. The trick is to determine which aspects of their personality or environment are the ones critical to their success. If you manage that, you can then imitate those aspects. For example, you can check what skills they have and try to develop the same skills. You can find out what kind of people they hang out with and adjust your social circle accordingly. You can even see how they dress and adopt the same style.
Other Benefits of Being True To Yourself
While I think that people who advise you to “be yourself” are usually doing it for the wrong reasons, there can also be some advantages to embracing your own interests and personality :
- For one, it can be beneficial to say (or write) what’s really on your mind, even your position is controversial. People will tend to notice the passion and sincerity of your arguments even if they disagree with you. In the long run, this can help you develop a reputation for being honest.
- Another advantage is the confidence boost that you get when dealing with topics that you know and like. It’s much easier to talk confidently about things you personally find interesting. Similarly, if you manage to find a job in a field that you’re really passionate about, you will definitely feel more confident about yourself than if you had to slog through your day at a soulless cubicle farm. And confidence, as we know, is attractive.
- Finally, it’s just more fun.
Don’t take the above as indication that I think being yourself is a great idea for everyone. Ultimately, being yourself is the second step. The first step is to be somewhat attractive (in the broad sense), either naturally or by imitating someone else. Then you can use the “be yourself” shtick to emphasize that attractiveness, to play to your strengths and reap the emergent benefits listed above.
Image credit : cobrasoft @ sxc.huRelated posts :