‘Just Be Yourself’ is Terrible Advice

I am perpetually stunned by the bullshit advice we give to young people. Follow your passion. Chase your dreams. Never give up. And my favorite…

Be yourself no matter what.

I don’t know if Hallmark personally sponsored all elementary schools to pump this generic, saccharine motivational garbage into the minds of our youth, but someone needs to tell them to cut it out.

What’s with all the negativity, Gina? Why kill dreams?

First of all, who invited you, disembodied voice, questioning all my thoughts? You can leave.

*door close sound*

Ok, now we’re alone. Back to my rant.

This Advice is Crap

No, here’s my problem with these kind of C+ grade aphorisms stamped on motivational posters with pro athletes on them — they turn deep, soul-searching journeys like finding your calling, building resiliency and owning your voice into pithy, one-off slogans that Nike and Under Armour can slather across a basketball jersey. 
(By the way, it’s not just sports. I also hate it when Taylor Swift stares at me in the library from the “Read” poster.)
Call it the commodification of self-actualization. Call it what you will. 
I could spend many a blog post decrying the looming downfall of future generations due to poorly written posters, but I’ll save that diatribe for another day. 
Instead, I’ll focus on that last phrase, the one that really gets under my skin when people pop it out as sage advice, like a shitty Pez dispenser. 
(Oh no, I just lost half of my readership due to a pre-90’s reference. Wait, come back! I promise I’ll mention Tamagotchies and Furbies later on!)
They’re gone. 
Here’s the one I hate: 
Be yourself. Be you, cause everyone else is already taken.
What in the actual fuck, people.

Did anyone who ever got this advice actually feel helped? Did you feel like this grand nugget of wisdom just planted itself into your brain, from whence your self-esteem soared like an eagle, your problems disappearing beneath your feet?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? 
(Uh-oh. Another 80’s reference.)

Who Am I, Though?

In lieu of winding down the rabbit hole of philosophy about ‘what is the self’, mostly because I am not equipped with a fancy pipe or highbrow pretentiousness, I’d like to briefly examine my own grapplings with my identity. 
I’ve been trying to figure myself out for about 27 years now.
From the time I was a nerdy, anxious, sweaty kid, to now, where, well…. everything’s pretty much the same… except I’m taller, I’ve wondered about my own oddities, the tiny and deep.

  • Why the hell do pun jokes and double entendres amuse me to no end?
  • Why do I prefer to be alone so much, yet also want to be invited to a lot of things?
  • How come I enjoy instigating discussion and debate, even when it’s inappropriate?
  • What’s the reason for my organization and checking compulsions?
  • Why am I so good at spelling and so disappointingly average at math?
  • How come I’m so generally snarky and grumpy?
  • Why do I feel like I’m always searching for ways to do more, be more, accomplish more?
  • If I feel safer and more secure in familiarity, why do I constantly seek new, unsettling adventure?

And that’s just scratching the surface. I know I’m not alone in ruminating on these sometimes paradoxical aspects of my personality. I don’t make sense to me a lot of the time. Chances are, you don’t to you a lot of the time either. What’s weird about you, huh? Huh? (Just lost more readers due to disconcerting psychological interrogation. Bye, guys.) So why, WHY — when people are in need, whether over interpersonal frustrations, nerves, worries, or other monsters we build in our heads — do we tell people to find solace and stability in something as ever-confusing and evolving as the self? If you are suffering from impostor syndrome, have low-self esteem, social anxiety, any other number of psychological demons (or are just a — gulp — human?), being yourself is about as easy as performing on the spot contortion or a well-timed fart.

Damn near impossible.

Am I crazy here? Am I just still too young to have figured out “who I am”, and so, this frustration is borne out of some youthful naïveté that I’ll have resolved by the time I’m 30? 40? A Mom? Married? A card-carrying AARP member? When? 
Where did everyone go?
All right, I’ll just talk to myself now. 
Well, Something Got Me Here Today, But I Don’t Know About Tomorrow

Maybe it does relate to my current stage of life in some way. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at a moment where I feel like my path (and identity, which seems to be closely connected to that?) could go a lot of different ways.

Some mornings I wake up and feel so goddamn confident I’m going to alter the world through a social enterprise. 
Then others I’m convinced I’ll waft into some barefoot off-the-grid lifestyle like a hippie Ron Swanson. 
Here and there, I’ll ponder selling all my positions and backpacking through Latin America. 
At times, I tell myself that maybe I could cut it as a “real writer”, whatever that means. 
On my bolder days, I consider running for political office. 
When I feel down, I contemplate escaping it all by buying a one-way ticket to Anywhere and just figuring it out. 
And then here I am, writing this blog, with the audacity to tell anyone else what to do. 
Who do I think I am?
Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question most of the time. God!
I mean, I know what I think my best qualities are. I know I’m honest, quick-witted, and fun. 
I know I’m kind of annoying, fickle, and notoriously bad at responding to text messages. 
I know I spend a lot of time tongue lashing elements and people of society that anger me to anyone who will listen, but privately wish that I could be doing more to be kinder to people and save the planet. 
I know that every day, no matter what, I’m trying to do a little bit better than the day before. 
Is that me, being myself? Hello?

Pay No Attention to the Woman Behind the Blog Curtain

To be honest with you, lately I’ve been wondering if I don’t share enough of my true personality (again, what is that?) here on this site. I’ve never wanted to really make it about me, you know? I see me as a distraction from what really matters. 
I have all these ideas and creations and projects and messages I want to share with the world, with you. And this whole time I’ve been thinking that that’s really what mattered — The Message. 
Why should I have anything to do with it? Who cares about me?
It doesn’t matter who is talking to you about impacting your community and world through service and creative projects, as long as the message gets through, right?
Actually, I think I’ve been thinking wrong… and I realized it this week.

Yep, lately I’ve been so happy and humbled for the strangest of reasons: email.

I’ve begun reaching out to more people in my world, people I’ve known for a time, met in passing, worked with, lived with, spent time, or otherwise crossed paths with, and I invited them to read this exact blog you’re reading right now. 
Up until this point, I was knee-knocking nervous over the notion.

I wanted to wait until it was damn near perfect to share with the world, cause if I put my name on a heaping pile of crap and sent it to a bunch of people in my contact list, wouldn’t they then just think I was a heaping pile of crap?

With each email I write to someone, I imagine what they will think when they see a message from me, waiting in their inbox:
Oh, Gina Edwards! We worked together a few years back. 
Gina — we met in Boston. 
Gina Edwards… how do I know her again? 
Hey, Gina! Wonder what she’s been up to since J-School. 
And so on.

Despite my nerves about sharing my work with people, the responses have been some of the most heartfelt I’ve received in a long time.

People wishing me well. People telling me they miss me. People wanting to reconnect.

Meet. Chat. Hug. Catch up. Skype. Get a beer.It’s not that people don’t care about Impact Explorer or the mission, but they seem more jazzed about hearing from me and reading what I’ve been up to.

They care about the message, sure, but they care about me, the person.

Cue the “You like me, you really like me!” clip! But actually, though. Joyful tears have been shed, people! ​

I realized that most people I’ve reached out to aren’t really just supporting my work, they’re supporting me, Gina.

Whoever I am to them. For most people, (I imagine) I’ve been labeled with a keyword or three, and so I will be stored in their brains, phones, and computers for as long as they function. The good and the bad. Nice. Smart. Annoying. Fun. Strange. Quiet. Funny. Loud. Interesting. Boring. Different. Deceitful. Average. Negative. Optimistic. Earnest. Tall. Friend. Sister. Coworker. Volunteer. Family Member. Writer. Role Model. Weirdo. Classmate. Colleage. Acquaintance. Stranger. Teacher. Neighbor. Student. Childhood buddy. Basketball player. (I never played basketball, ok?! I was bad at it and also volleyball so please stop asking.) Who knows what all my labels are. On a given day, week, or month, I might bear several.

What is all of this to say, really?

I still don’t know exactly who I am, and ‘being myself’ online (or in the real world for that matter) still terrifies me. But it seems like some people like me anyhow.

Despite my internal disarray, reader, here you are. (Wait, are you here?)

That’s pretty damn cool. Maybe you like what I have to say, or maybe how I say it. Maybe you’re here by accident, or because you read every post. Maybe you’re here for the good advice and the snark, or

Maybe you just like me, version 239473947.0, and wanna see what I’m thinking and writing about lately.

However you landed on my little corner of the internet, I’m glad you’re here. And I can’t wait to get to know you (more).

Nice to meet you. I’m Gina.

If you liked this post, you might also like: Dance Like Internet Trolls Aren’t Watching: Being Creative Online

Originally published at www.theimpactexplorer.com.

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