This advice can backfire if your natural state can get you in trouble and cause damage to your life. A perfect example of people not being themselves for their benefit is mental health services for people with minor issues. While a person's natural state may be to be very emotional, current society frowns upon most emotions beyond happiness, so it may be more beneficial for that person to take a drug to make them more in line with other's emotional level.
Of course life is fundamentally about eating other life, except for bacteria that eat rocks. So there could be an adversarial element to it
Even more off topic, the only reason I feel the need to comment is my kid is prepping for a Singapore Science test and they seem to have a lot of questions about this stuff.
Added: That means some of the answers on the sample Singapore Science tests are not really correct.
in general blanket statement about the nature are going to always find corner cases
Yes if you be yourself you might feel better, but you might lose out on friends, on a great job, on a marriage even. At the end of the day those people who regret not being themselves may not properly account for the things they wouldnt have if they had been.
If you are an African American or female or both in the tech industry the above couldn't be more true.
Most people are neither themselves nor know what they want, in the sense that both concepts are frequently constructed for them and not actually derived from the knowledge or best interest of the person. The first order of business when implementing either is to make sure they actually belong to you in the first place.
I.e., if your parents have pushed you to be an artist your whole life and you're actually meh on it, and if you go through social motions without seeing much value in them, neither of these is "you". Which is not to say that either of these things is somehow wrong or bad, but you should reexamine them for yourself to either see their value and keep them or identify them as of low value and discard them.
This is all completely orthogonal to the idea that other people should tolerate your behavior merely on the basis of it being authentic. That simply doesn't follow.
Or go on HN, where everybody loves to argue.
More generally, the world is broad enough that there's usually a tribe for everyone. You may not find them in your local area. That's an impetus to go beyond your local area and seek them out.
For example, if someone wants to impress someone else, they may act in a way they think is in line with that someone else's wants and values. This can result in awkward and embarrassing situations since it's not natural or well-practiced, and it can result in being deceitful.
Instead it's better to acknowledge and be sensitive toward what that someone else wants and values, but to still behave in a way that is true to our own wants and values.
I both want to play video games for hours and focus on applications of Richards Curves. I want to exercise and not exercise. I want to meet people and take care of social relationships, and have lots of time to myself. Which desires are more authentic? If one desire transcends a mere want and becomes a value, how would we distinguish that? And then, how would we distill that into meaningful advice?
Probably not effectively with the words "be yourself."
Agreed. It's an easy platitude to give, which is probably why it's so common.
> it's not really clear to me that there's an absolute dividing line there, or that it's even easy to sort out decidedly intrinsic/internal values into authentic or not authentic.
Right, it's nebulous and a good subject for philosophy textbooks. As far as practical advice goes, I think it's not too much to say that you can draw the line when you're behaving in a way that feels unnatural in hopes that others will respond positively to it.
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." -- Albus Dumbledore
The most charitable interpretation I can give the advice is, "Yeah, you're not skilled at this, and there isn't much I can do to help. But there are likeable aspects about yourself, and they don't shine through if you're constantly focusing on imitating some external model of how to do it right. The best you can hope for is not to have such unforced errors, so that at least you can keep whatever wins come from the real you."
If they think "you're naturally skilled at this", they're usually mistaken.
My charitable version is what people would say if they could be honest and were aware of the relevant facts on the ground.
We have completely different anecdata. I've said and heard people say "be yourself" many times. Rarely have I seen it go awry. Typically the people who say "be yourself" are naturally skilled at social interaction, so they can read whether the person is also able to socialize and make the right decision. But I can see how someone who lacks social skills might repeat the saying without even noticing the level of social skills of the person they're saying it to. Much like what this commenter was talking about: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19702757
My problems couldn’t be fixed merely by someone telling me to “be myself”, but they had the right idea.
It's especially useful in the short term context (let's say you have an interview tomorrow): you don't have enough time to pivot your personality, if you try, the judging person will read your inauthenticity as something fishy and you will increase your odds of missing out on your objective.
But in so many contexts -especially in dating- it gets misinterpreted as long term advice "you are entitled for others to accept you as you are and/or eventually someone will accept you as you are, and your objective X will be met"
Hoffman: ... are you being yourself?
Law [increduluous]: How am I not myself?!
Hoffman : "How am I not myself."
Law: _How am I not myself?_
Law [distressed, starting to choke up]: How am I not myself.
The reason the advice "be yourself" exists, and also why older people tend to be the ones expressing it, is that the danger in not being yourself is that you may wake up one day in a career or surrounded by people that do not accept you for who you are. And you end up trapped in a life where you have to pretend to be something you're not. The idea is that the younger you start being honest about yourself to others, the sooner you will wind up away from people that do not like your true self, and closer to people that appreciate you for that true self.
If you are an introvert, do not spend your life trying to pretend you are an extrovert. Instead, embrace your introversion and find a sustainable way to get the social interaction you need/want.
If you do not enjoy managing people, you will fall behind people who do enjoy it, so instead spending your years unhappy and trapped, try to find a career ladder where you can focus on being a great individual contributor.
If someone close to you just died and you are grieving, do not try to pretend that you're fine or cheerful for the sake of others. Take the time to process it however you need to.
There are plenty of other examples. This advice isn't really about how you act day to day, it's about making sure you are doing things for reasons you actually believe in.
It means to express yourself, your ideals, and to not conform entirely to peer pressure, or to conformity.
This is something we tell young people because they are often at the whim of social norms, some of which are bad, like 'Instagram popularity contests'.
It's generally I think decent advice, even for adults, for whom I think the notion of 'being authentic' would apply.
In this more specific light, find your own path rather than copying and pasting.
the latter is less uncompromising on how you go about living and presenting yourself but contains the same principle of unity between knowing when your acting in the world is aligned with your ethic and when it isn't, so that either your acting or your ethic can move to the point the other is, to reduce entropy in your life.
I can only jokingly think of people who are naturally hostile or low on EQ. "They can't handle all this!" kind of people.
And this is just one example. I have quite a few more of different flavors, all of which involve someone deciding that "being themselves" is all about destructive behavior. They don't lack EQ: In fact, I'd say almost all of them have very high EQs, but they are also either very damaged, or not very good people.
It's a good approach for someone who's already developed those social skills and wastes a lot of time second guessing themselves, but it's a terrible approach for someone who's really immature or unpolished. It gives them carte blanche to dismiss all conflicts and disagreements as being someone else's fault.
I've known too many people who will formulate vast and complicated worldviews to explain away all their personal troubles, before they'll ever consider looking in the mirror and admitting that they might be able to improve some things about themselves. Example: incels and redpillers. They will change their view of the entire world before they consider changing their view of themselves. Someone who habitually blames everything on other people is unlikely to ever perceive their own faults, and may even embrace them rather than grow out of them.
Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.
Maybe Hitler's true self was being a painter, maybe the horrors of the trenches or Germanys humiliation pushed him to it? Maybe it was the rejection of not being able to sell any paintings.
You’re right benj111, maybe he was just misunderstood.
I don't think I was defending him though? If he's killing millions of people whilst not being himself isn't that in some ways worse?
Less profound but invites continual improvement, and it subtly elicits what matters to you.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
That's not permitted though. This is the framework that is permitted, and within which we can discuss the difference between "be yourself" and "just do what you want" in articles of appropriate word count as suggested by the editor:
> [Hobbes] foresaw the necessary idolatry of power itself by this new human type, that he would be flattered at being called a power-thirsty animal, although actually society would force him to surrender all his natural forces, his virtues and his vices, and would make him the poor meek little fellow who has not even the right to rise against tyranny, and who, far from striving for power, submits to any existing government and does not stir even when his best friend falls an innocent victim to an incomprehensible raison d'etat.
-- Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism"
We have this "open world sandbox", moot and harmless, utterly devoid of deep meaning, because it's all printed on stickers without any lasting adhesive, that can and will be removed without any trace or consequence. We may not have noticed this, but our brain did.
Most "thought" expressed in the 21st century stems from rationalizing around that elephant on the couch, that's what I think. When I come across a turtle on its back in a desert, I don't know quite know what to do, I never seem to be able to help and it's really stressing me out, but I know what I will NEVER do, I will never say "oh, I guess that's just what the turtle does, that's just how it walks, it's not dying, that's how it lives".
Yes, the author of this piece had to learn the hard way that their attitude was toxic, but had this person never actually felt consequences from that behavior - there would be no hope at all for growing into a better person. You must be accountable for yourself, and if you think you must hide yourself to be liked or just follow someone else's example all the time - any time something breaks down, you won't know if it's because what you're pretending to be is wrong or if you're just doing it wrong.
The accountability necessary for personal growth is therefore precluded on accepting that the actions you take are fully your own, and consistent with your own conception of self. It's better to be wrong and learn why than to chase temporary praise through shallow, idealized imitations that serve to suit the expectations of whatever audience you value at the moment. Because when you cast off one imitation for another one, it will make it hard for anybody to know what you actually value - including yourself.
It shows how different people in this world can find paths to success without all of them having to be stamped out clones.
I think what be yourself means most of all is understanding the implications of being yourself. Self-awareness of the downsides to extreme ends of your personality - being too trusting, too cautious, too demanding, too brittle, too accommodating, too demonstrative, too anything that in and of itself is a perfectly normal human trait - goes a long way.
To the extent that you've been 'socialized into' adopting the behaviors of those around you (often unwittingly), your authentic self may be buried ... even (for some) forgotten.
Most of us, I suspect, are reminded now and then of times in our teens/early 20s when we acted in ways that we now regret. In ways that might have sickened our pre-teen selves. Where were our 'selves' then? Well, as Blake put it, 'You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. '
First know, then be.
I heard a joke once that "past me was an ass hole, and ate that cake so now I've got to run." or something like that. That's the way I try to think about this. If I don't look back at past me with a little bit of that same feeling I get when looking at old code then I haven't grown. And I try to use that to remind current me that future me matters too.
Rule number one is just be yourself. And that's actually the first thing, when I got the Late Night Show -- I bring them up now because they just did this great documentary about Johnny Carson -- one of the first people I talked to was Johnny Carson and he said, "Just be yourself." He said "It's the only way it can work." He didn't say it would work, because he's being honest; he didn't know me. You might be yourself and it would be terrible. But he said, "Be yourself, it's the only way." There's an honesty to that. I do think that that's a little bit timeless.
It's not a competition, and the universe doesn't give a shit who's happy. No one's owed anything. Make things better for those around you, and maybe it'll spill over. No guarantees... but as a hand it's all we hold against death and taxes.
The usual platitude skips all the hard prep work required for "be yourself" to actually be good advice.
The feedback may not always be pleasant, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time not being yourself. If the self you’ve constructed deviates so far from the norm, you’re going to struggle normalizing it. Maybe you’ve created the next big thing, and everyone needs to adjust to you, sure. But maybe you haven’t. And even if you have, you’re going to need to assist everyone in understanding how you’ve come to where you are. And that’s going to take work.
Again, being yourself is the best thing you can do. It’s great advice. Be ready for feedback. And be ready to defend your self against that feedback or to let if guide you. But there’s absolutely no other way to live your life than to be yourself. At all. Anything less is a soulless existence; an existence worse than death.
TLDR, be yourself, and be ready for a reality check. It might come, it might wrong, it might be anything. But do not sell your soul to someone else’s.
"Being free does not lead to decadence. It brings out potential." -- Shigesato Itoi
Just read the headline, that's as good as it gets.
Accept who you are, brutal honesty.
Then begins a self talk. You can't really have it be meaningful prior to brutal self acceptance.
Own your future. Who you are today is not who you have to be, or even will be.
It is all about who you can be and why.
When that why is rooted in your reasons, the change comes easy and it will endure too.
In all of that is the difference between having to manage a layer of abstraction, forethought, dedicated to some sort of compliance or show
thought as action, your very nature being that which makes sense, treats others, itself well.
Own yourself. Others doing it for their reasons will leave you a mess, inhibited. Don't do it.
Edit: how do I know?
Did exactly what I put here in my 20's. Walked away from ugly family issues, religion and a lot of hate and intolreance.
Married someone better than me, in the gets people sense, and she did the same in the technical sense. We made each other better.
Owned it all the day I walked. Resolved to sort every last bit if all that shit and did, one long drive to work at a time, and one simple choice at a time.
Starting is the hardest. Once doing this becomes part of your nature, the rest follows naturally.
Parts of this struck me the wrong way. Comment removed. Too harsh. Their story is solid.
Is is things like this:
>holistic self does not exist; we are made of many selves that are revealed through endless experimentation and self-examination.
I would argue the self grows and matured, can become more complex, or simplify, based on experiences, and choices.
Many selves, to me, is a compartmentalized mind, presenting fragments based on context.
Those compartments can be resolved as the self-lies, failure to reach self acceptance are resolved.
Lies compartmentalized our reason. So can simple error, denial.
There is the reason, and there is what is associated with the lie or elevation of error or belief to fact. Reasoning across these boundaries us difficult and can be a source of anxiety to some, anger, shut down for others.
The sense of who you are does not have to be so fragmented. That same process of self discovery and ideally acceptance can be revisited to decompartmentalize and congeal who we are into a more atomic entity.
I would argue we benefit from doing that.
Edit - Kierkegaard's rambling quoted in the article points to the difficulty of pinpointing the "self", the essence of a human (where's the essence, the self, the soul of a car - a buddhist would ask?):
> Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation [which accounts for it] that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but [consists in the fact] that the relation relates itself to its own self. Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.