Just be yourself, she said. I felt the uneasiness brewing in my stomach like stale milk curdling in the sun. As her words fell upon my own naive nervousness, I began to lose hope. I repeated what she said under my breath, as my eyes raced around, contrasting the shaking of my tense head. Those words had always seemed to make me cringe, overshadowed only by the phrase teenagers around the world despise: “The Real World”.
“Just be myself? …what does that even MEAN?!” I said in a half‐crazed manor.
“You know, just relax and be yourself. You’re a great, nice guy, she’d be crazy to not like you. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” My friend replied trying to comfort me.
“Right, because that’s been working FAN‐FUCKING‐TASTIC so far.” I snapped.
My friend looked at me with the kind of empathetic look you find in the owner of a cute puppy that must be put down. Where she looks into the pup’s eyes and talks only with a wet gaze, comforting the poor, pathetic thing. The look of “Everything’s going to be okay, even though you’re going to die in a few minutes.”
The only thing I was missing was a belly rub. Hell, I might have even accepted one of those since it would have been the only action I got that night.
So how do you imagine the date went?
As I’m sure you predicted, the date went marginally mediocre at best. But I mean hey, I was myself right? Oh, to be 16 again…
Does this sound in any way familiar? (If not for a date, even an interview, meeting, presentation, etc).
I don’t know about you, but a majority of advice I received when I was younger was vague, general, and usually nothing that I could DO to improve and get any tangible results. I suppose it was my fault for asking people that had no expertise in the area I wanted to improve on. After all, would you ask somebody who’s poor how to make a million dollars? They’d probably just say to keep working hard and be yourself.
Now I understand (and appreciate), I really do, what these folks are doing. They have the best intentions, but I feel that often times that advice does more harm than good. For example, think medicine. If a doctor gave you bad advice on what prescription to take, you’d probably get sick. Would you keep going back to see him for help? I hope not. Then why would you keep asking the same people for crappy advice?
“Okay, so Drew,” you might ask “what’s wrong with being yourself? Shouldn’t we be authentic and genuine? Are you telling me to lie and pretend to be someone I’m not?!”
Whoa, settle down tiger. I get that response a lot (logically), and let me set this entire thing to rest right here, right now as you’re there, reading this.
When people say “just be yourself” they mean to be honest and genuine; they’re saying stop pretending to be somebody you’re not and to not put on a show. To stop trying to fit in, and start letting yourself stand out and be remarkable.
If that’s your problem, then this is the time (and the only time) that the advice to “be yourself” works and is the best advice you can ever get.
If you have to lie and pretend to be somebody you’re not, in order to trick or impress the other person (or group), you need to stop that now. You need to stop being somebody else, stop trying to “fit in”, stop trying to mold yourself into the image others want you to be, and realize you should, yes, be yourself. If the person (or group) doesn’t like you for who you are, then find one that will accept you for you.
That being said (and put aside), “just being yourself” in almost every other context is the worst, and crappiest advice you can ever get. Really. For cereals. Here’s why:
If yourself sucks, then why the hell do you want to keep being it?
Okay, let me be a little more politically correct: If you’re already being your authentic self, and you’re not getting the results you want, why would you keep doing it? Einstein said “the definition of insanity was doing the exact same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.”
Now for you holistic spiritual types, let me clarify: I do believe that deep inside at our core, we’re all complete and have all the resources we need to succeed, and that we are who we are.
That being said, we have a lot of crap covering it up, and realistically need to learn in order to improve who we are and to get what we want. You can think we’re spiritually perfect/divine/etc, but as humans on this planet, we’re not. If you’re here reading this now, I know you believe we should constantly grow to become the best “us” we can be. If you don’t, then you should probably stop reading this right now.
There’s no real steps you can take – it’s way too vague.
What does it even mean? If I can’t be myself already, how is telling me going to help? It’s like asking somebody for help because there’s a bridge out to cross the river, and they tell you to be yourself find a way to get across. No way, really?
So basically, even if you can use the advice, it really does nothing for you.
They have no idea. Really.
“Be yourself” is a lazy fallback expression people can say to sound supportive and wise, when they either don’t really give a shit, or have no experience or useful advice to give about the subject matter. Stop asking these people for advice, and start finding people that can and/or want to help you become excellent – not just to “get by” or be mediocre.
The last, and biggest reason, is because it’s just an excuse; an alibi.
Let’s be honest, shall we? If all you had to do was “be yourself”, and it didn’t work out, then it’s the other person’s fault/problem/loss. You don’t have to do anything, no effort involved at all – awesome! No need to spend money or time trying to make yourself a better person that brings more value and happiness to others and yourself, when you can just sit around being you! Yayyy!
You’re wonderful, nice, and the perfect guy that women should love… too bad all they do is run. They must all be crazy right? I mean, you’re great just how you are. You’re yourself, and they should just accept you for who you are and hold your hand, sing kumbaya, and maybe, just maybe, let you have a nice pity fuck once every other month. (Gasp!)
Yeah that’s what you want: pity, acceptance, and friendly comforting. When you’re on your deathbed alone, dying by yourself with nobody left loving you, at least you can blame all those other people because they didn’t accept you for “being yourself”. Sounds like a greeeaaat way to live your life as a man, doesn’t it?
Does this sound familiar? Does this even hurt to have to read this kind of nonsense? Does reading the phrase “be yourself” make you cringe yet?
If this makes you cringe because you know it’s not how you live, and have already been there done that – awesome, I’m with you man. If you read that and cringe because that’s where you are now, and are sick and tired of living like that (or you can’t stand the thought of dying like that), then I’m glad you’re here expanding your mind to new possibilities, eager to join me on the path to become a polyman.
So what can you do about this? Well first off, because you’re here, you’re probably one who wants and enjoys discovering new learnings and improvements like this, so that’s covered. Second, here’s a list of some important points for transitioning from the “be yourself” model of advice world:
- Stop making excuses, and start realizing possibilities. The core of who you are is who you are, but the way you express yourself and interact with others is a skill that anyone and everyone who wants to get better at, can, and probably should. If you don’t like who you are, realize you can do something about it, right now.
- Realize you’re worth it, and decide to do something about it. This is your life, start living it. Maybe it’s also time you burned your ships.
- Don’t be greedy – give your appreciation. People that take time to give you advice aren’t usually looking for anything besides seeing you succeed, so show your thanks and at least try their suggestions and do your best with them (or to leave a comment *ahem*). As somebody who gives a lot of advice, the quickest thing that’ll stop me helping them, is if they’re not following my advice or they don’t have the desire to help themselves.
- Help yourself, and teach others. If you’re trying to become a better person, one of the best ways is to help other people do the same. Teaching is the best way to learn. Make your life a win‐win‐win.
- Figure out who gives you good advice, and who mostly gives “be yourself” advice. Realize that they usually are genuinely trying to help, so thank them, and then focus your questions on somebody that can really help you. Don’t ignore them, but don’t spend too much time with them. These “people” can be any resource; blogs and websites like this, books, or specialized products and trainings. The medium of advice is irrelevant.
How do you know who these people are? Here are some of the signs of somebody that gives bad (or heavily tainted) advice:
- They tend to talk a lot about a lot of nothing. They offer their unsolicited advice about everything, and always have to have their opinion heard about everything.
- They tend to think they’re always right about everything, without having any reason to. If they usually are right, and are just really smart, then that’s okay – you found a very special person.
- They think they’ve earned the right to be able to give advice, just because of age, position, or title.
- They tend to be pessimistic and/or depressed. Also, those that have prejudices and closed minds.
- They’re not particularly experienced in the field you’re needing help with (though sometimes can still have some general wisdom).
- They tend to be really fluffy and over empathetic without control of their emotions or themselves.
- Their advice tends to suck. (I know I’m Captain Obvious here, but having a good bullshit detector is critical).
- They tend to talk uselessly vague and tell you to “be yourself”, even when asking calculus questions (or how to get over the river).
- They tend to be under the age of 2, pets, or inanimate objects.
- They tend to start lists off with the words “They tend” and use sarcasm and humor in places that “should be serious”.
Now that you know what to lookout for, here’s a list of things that you should look for in somebody that has a good chance of giving (or pointing you in the right direction for finding) excellent advice:
- They’ve given you great advice before.
- They have a good reputation for being somebody that’s wise.
- They use metaphors. Good ones.
- They genuinely want you to succeed (and even to do better than themselves).
- They have some sort of official training: such as a coach, NLP practitioner, trusted doctors/therapists, or any other expert in the field of advice you’re looking for. Be aware though, there are still many “experts” that are totally full of shit – trust your gut.
- They’ve been where you are and have successfully overcame it. Even better if they “tried everything” (unless it’s a informercial testimonial).
- They don’t tell you advice in absolutes, and encourage you to discover things for yourself.
- They’re somebody you admire to be like or model.
- They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear (and know the difference).
- They’re a polyman.
- They’re 210 years old with a white beard that flows to their feet and speak in any asian language.
- They can travel through time.
- They write really awesome posts on thepolyman.com just for you.
So now you understand what “being yourself” is all about – the good and bad’s of it, and how fast to run when somebody starts telling you to “be yourself” when you just need help with some math (or river‐crossing).
Everyone thinks they’re an expert, and you gotta’ be sure you know the difference between bad advice from them, and quality advice from this person who has obviously really helped you now, and will continue to make sure you succeed in the future. This trusted source that is here, with you when you need it most, that will tell you to stop now “just being yourself” and to start being the best you that you can be.
So go and be yourself – just make damned sure it’s the best you that you can be.
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