Why “Be Yourself” Can be a Toxic, Self-Limiting Phrase and What You Should Replace it With

legs-434918_960_720I’m sure you have heard it a hundred times. “Be yourself.” You’ve heard it so much you probably have never even stopped to question its wisdom. “Be yourself.” After all if, if so many people say it, it must be true, right? “Be yourself.”

Be Yourself is the Pathway to Mediocrity

Well guess what, all those people are wrong and “Be yourself” is generally crappy advice. Don’t believe me? Consider this example.

A cute little baby boy is born. From almost the first day of life, his parents will begin teaching him. Soon he’ll recognize gestures, later words, and eventually will even be able to speak. Parents will teach their little baby to crawl and then walk. Soon he’ll be sent off to daycare, where he’ll learn new things. He’ll also be taught manners and how to interact with other little children. Day by day, step by step, his little mind and personality are molded and shaped by his parents, teachers, and others in order to help him be happy, healthy, and successful in life.

All this education and support is seen as a good thing, right? No one would say, your kid seems to prefer to eat with his hands, so definitely don’t make him use utensils. Let him be himself!” That statement would seem absurd. If he is getting into fights with other kids aat daycare, no one would say, “Little Timmy seems to enjoy aggressive behaviors. Be yourself, Timmy, be yourself.” We all instinctively understand that Timmy should be encouraged to adjust his behavior and conform to the standards of society.

But what happens later? Once Timmy is a teen or young adult, we suddenly start to see his personality as set. And any suggestion that he should deviate is met with the cry, “That would be asking him to be fake.” Strangely, we didn’t do that when he was young. Making Timmy play nice when he wanted to wrestle was making him be fake. Making Timmy say, “Pleased to meet you” to a guest when he would rather be outside playing was fake. The thing is, by teaching and reinforcing fake behaviors, they eventually changed Timmy. Enough socializing with strangers taught him to appreciate conversations with others. Enough study in school taught him to see the advantages his new skills could give him.

Why do we let ourselves off the hook and tolerate mediocrity once we reach adulthood? Let me give an example from my own life. I am an introvert by nature. I was shy as a kid and even now still do feel social anxiety from time to time. Some people would tell me that’s ok, I should just be myself and just accept that socializing is not my strong suit in life. But why? Just because something is hard for me, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. Just like young Timmy, if I force myself to work on something and improve at it, eventually, I will get better at it. There are techniques and skills I can learn to be a better socializer. If I work at it, I can become a better version of myself.

Become Yourself

I want to banish the phrase “Be yourself” and replace it with “Become yourself.” I used to be shy and awkward. Now I am becoming confident in social situations. “Be yourself” would have kept me in my shell. Instead of accepting who I am, I work toward who I want to be. That’s what we did all through our growing up years and that is what we ought to keep doing. Who do you want to be? How do you hope to live your life? Get busy chasing those goals, and “become yourself!”

To your daily self-improvement,

Jamie

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