The Importance of Being Yourself
Most of the positive messages I heard growing up were some form or another of “be yourself.” In my experience, the be yourself messages are rampant the younger you are, and start to change when you get older.
Because at some point, probably in High School, you’ll get the idea from the adults in your life that yes, it’s good to be yourself, but you’ll probably have to conform if you want to be accepted into a part of society that will help make you a lot of money so you don’t end up homeless and broke.
And then it’s all about how to understand the norms of the culture you want to join. You’ll learn things like how to give a firm handshake (and you’ll be judged if you don’t), how to play golf, how to “fit in.”
Even after I had achieved my first job post-college, I was told to tone down my personality, after bringing a ukulele to work to sing someone a birthday song. The workplace isn’t a place for freedom of expression; it’s about complacency and conformity. There are no room for extra colors, at least in the place I worked.
And so the importance of being yourself comes not as a liberating act, but as an act of battle. You can be yourself only if yourself is congruent with the social norms in your world, or the world you seek to join. And for most people, that’s not always the case. Most of us need to compromise. The lucky few that don’t have one less worry in life. And if you want to be yourself despite not fitting into your group, then everyday becomes stressful. Every day becomes an uphill battle against who you are vs. who everyone else would like you to be.
Still, I would argue that it’s important to be yourself despite the fact that it might turn off the groups you wish to join. Because if you do end up fooling those groups into thinking you fit in, you’ll end up living a lie. And they’ll find out eventually. It can’t stay a secret forever.
The good news is that somewhere out there, there’s a group that will accept you for who you are. Where you can be yourself as an act of liberation rather than a battle.
Our time is better spent on finding that group, instead of swimming upstream to go against our personality quirks in order to create a false version of ourselves.
Because ultimately, the world will be a better place when everyone is exactly where they need to be, doing the work that they need to be doing. And that’s harder than learning how to shake someone’s hand. It requires understanding whose hand to shake.