Don’t Be Yourself

Debunking the usefulness of a cultural meme

In my short life, many of my mentors, teachers, peers and colleagues have well-meaningfully uttered the phrase “be yourself” when giving advice. I’m sure you’ve been given this advice too.

While this advice is comforting and appears to be helpful, it is also confusing, damaging and with no better way to express it — bad advice.

What does “be yourself” really mean?

The concept of the“self” is already difficult to understand. What exactly are you?

Many belief systems concur that we have a spirit or a soul — that there is a permanent part of you that existed before life, and perpetuates after death. Freud used the term “ego” to describe the self and compared it to being a rider on a horse.

In fact it feels that way too. Most of us feel as if we’re located somewhere in our heads. However, there’s no part of our heads which stores the self. From this we have to conclude that the self is an imaginary construct which we’ve evolved into, perhaps for a specific survival purpose.

Many might argue that being yourself simply means being genuine and authentic, which entails listening to your thoughts and emotions and acting on them. To give you a blatant analogy, let’s examine the mind of a serial killer.

The serial killer feels an irresistible urge to kill someone. Should the serial killer then follow the advice “be yourself” and act on all these urges? The same logic can be applied to many of our unhelpful behaviors.

It’s common when we do something unapproved of by others such as becoming too friendly too quickly, or making an inappropriate joke to say “I’m just being me”, yet the serial killer would say the same.

In fact, the whole self-improvement genre contradicts the advice of being yourself. Being yourself is comforting because it tells you that you’re fine just the way you are.

It communicates to you that change is not necessary. Yet improving yourself is synonymous with change.

And since growth is central to the well-being of an individual, not to mention responsible for it’s existence, I have to conclude that the advice “be yourself” is just an emotional blanket which may possibly hinder individual growth.

Don’t be yourself.

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