I saw a meme a few days ago where a porcupine was admiring the smoothness of a snake. The porcupine said, “I hate these spikes. I wish I had her body”. Then, in the next frame, the smooth-skinned snake was picked up and carried away by an eagle. Seeing this, the porcupine said, “Thank you God for these spikes”.
It’s easy to see how animals and plants differ. They come in all shapes, colours, and sizes. They also have all sorts of weird features and behaviours. And, whilst some attributes may appear not to be cool, if you look hard enough, you will see the wonders in them.
Humans aren’t that different: People in sunnier regions may have darker skin to protect against UV radiation. People in hot, humid climates often have curlier, coarser hair types for heat dissipation. Certain eye shapes even protect against dust or harsh sunlight. And it goes on and on.
But, our differences and uniqueness are far beyond physical. We also differ in our personalities, ways of thinking, and consequently behaviours. Introversion and extroversion are popular differences. But, there are also more such as openness to experience vs. closed-mindedness, conscientiousness vs. undependability, agreeableness vs. hostility, and so on.
And, while it might be tempting to think one is cooler than the other, it is important to remember the porcupine and the snake meme.
What it means to be yourself:
Being yourself means embracing, expressing, and developing your true and authentic self – despite your flaws, imperfections, and all – without pretending to be someone you’re not. It involves being in touch with and living in alignment with your genuine thoughts, feelings, values, desires, and drives, rather than conforming to the influence of external pressures, expectations, or societal norms.
In simple terms: you are yourself when your actions align with your values, beliefs, and passions.
For example, a snake will never pretend to be vegan (not even if its scales are green). It will feel no shame or remorse in strangling and swallowing a rat whole. And, nothing you say or do will stop it from wanting and actively trying to hunt down and kill the next prey. So also, someone who is being true to themselves, for example, won’t pretend to have no sexual desires. They will feel no shame in having sex with people they are attracted to. And, nothing someone says or does will make them rethink their sexual desires (no matter their orientation).
How do I know I am being myself?
You are being yourself when you feel aligned with your values, beliefs, and passions. And, when you live this way, there will be the absence of guilt – your conscience will be clear and you will feel no internal conflict.
When you are being yourself, you will feel;
- Authentic: You will trust your intuition and make decisions based on your values and desires, unswayed by external pressures.
- Comfortable: You will feel comfortable in your own skin, both in solitude and in the company of others, and won’t be overly concerned about seeking approval.
- Passionate: You will be self-motivated and driven to pursue your passions,
- Assertive: You will be comfortable communicating your needs and expectations clearly and effectively, and also set boundaries that protect your well-being and values.
- Content: You will experience emotional resonance, contentment, and peace with your choices, fostering positive, mutually respectful relationships.
- Honest: You will not see the need to hide your true emotions or beliefs, and will ensure your actions are consistent with your beliefs and values.
- Okay with change: You will be open to personal growth while remaining true to your core values.
- Regret-free: You will feel less regret and resentment as you make choices in alignment with your true self.
As you can see, it’s a great feat to attain: Charles Horton Cooley once said, “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”
Being yourself is not always easy, as there is often pressure to conform to the expectations of others. However, living authentically is important for our well-being, and there are many strategies we can use to be more true to ourselves, even in challenging situations. (we will discuss this in the subsequent section)
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Is being yourself always a good thing?
It is important to understand that being yourself and being a good person are two different things. If a notorious thief doesn’t steal your money, it is not because they are good, but rather because they are hiding their true self (perhaps for fear of being caught and punished). Also, a gentle person can act violently for fear of being seen as weak.
Needless to say, many (if not most) people to a large extent are not being themselves. Fear, greed, pride, and other external factors greatly influence and hijack their behaviour. They do a cost-benefit analysis and put on different masks and fronts just to get the validation (or to escape the punishment) of society, hence are dishonest (to themselves and the world).
I can’t help but share the news about a member of Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ government who was caught after fleeing a 20-men orgy (despite the coronavirus restrictions).
And, even though there are seemingly some benefits to not being yourself, the disaster of living that way is that you will be living a lie – you will be living in a world that is not your reality, and sooner or later, reality will win. The result will often be like a nasty smell oozing out of a beautifully decorated casket.
Hence, it is critical to know yourself – to figure out the aspects in which you are bad – so that you can work to modify them (if possible), or move to an environment (if necessary) in which it is not bad so you can be yourself without harming or deceiving yourself and other.
For example, if you’re short-tempered, you might stay true to yourself by admitting your nature and getting professional help to help you change that, or you can become a boxer so you get to punch people in the face for money or perhaps join the military so you get to unalive terrorists and get medals. Whatever the case, the point is to not lie about your nature.
What are the merits of being yourself?
One of the most unpalatable words for me is “hypocrite”. I retract from it like a worm shrinks from salt. I’m not saying I’ve never been, but I try not to. I am highly conscious of that, often catching myself in the process. This is because I know that it is seldom worth it. And, that, in fact, being 100% true to myself will be much more advantageous in the future (despite the discomfort it might cause in the present).
The second worst word for me is “fake”. I would rather not show myself than pose to be who I am not. I would also rather let you know I am not one of the cool kids than pretend to be. And, in a strange way, that often makes me appear high-value and cool.
The merits of being yourself despite the pressure are numerous, but here are a couple of them:
When you are true to yourself, you project authenticity. This authenticity fosters deeper and more meaningful connections with others. This makes it easier for others to trust and connect with you, as they can sense your genuine nature; and this leads to more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
For example, when I want to approach someone I don’t go out of my way to dress impressively or use big vocabulary to impress. I let them see me for who I am. And, often, they admire it.
This doesn’t mean I am adamant. No. I am obsessed with improvement. I put in the effort to be better than I was yesterday, but I don’t embellish things.
Embracing your true self and accepting who you are can boost your self-esteem and self-worth. You no longer need to pretend or hide, leading to greater self-confidence.
My self-confidence skyrocketed when I started radically admitting my quirks. For example, rather than worrying about what people thought of me at social events, I admitted and informed my friends that I did not know how to dance and that I was introverted. This way, when I sit or stand still despite the loud music, drinks, and all, I don’t feel awkward – because I am not expecting myself to be doing anything other than being the introvert who can’t dance.
Sure, everyone who knows me well enough (that is, the people who really matter) knows that once in a private space, I can stimulate their minds with ideas, make them laugh till their ribs hurt, and give them a good time in general. Hence, they love, respect, and cherish me for that, and I too know, love, respect, and cherish myself for that.
You are more likely to experience contentment, self-acceptance, and a positive outlook on life when you are 100% being your true self. Pretending to be someone you’re not can be mentally exhausting and cause stress and anxiety.
When you are not being yourself, there is always the fear of being found out. You are bound to worry about your past and the future that awaits you as you try to modify what others think of you. It is no small task.
However, when you are yourself, you can forget about the past (because you embody it), and ignore the future (because you trust there is no lie to be uncovered). This puts you in a relaxed state and protects your mental health which all come together to help you act properly in the present.
Being true to your values, passions, and desires can lead to a more fulfilling life. You’re more likely to pursue goals and activities that align with your authentic self, leading to a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
One of the quickest ways to become miserable is to pursue a life that is not yours. From dating to career, if you stick with people and things that are not aligned with your heart, you will sooner or later regret it even if it brings in other benefits.
For example, I quit drawing and focused on writing because I wasn’t getting much sense of satisfaction from drawing people’s faces. I prefer writing about self-help and personal development because, beyond money, I feel a sense of accomplishment whenever I see someone’s life improved thanks to my work.
When you are in tune with your authentic self, you make decisions that are aligned with your values and aspirations. This leads to more informed and personally satisfying choices.
Consider someone who values simplicity and a minimalist lifestyle. When they embrace their authentic self, they might choose to declutter their living space, reduce material possessions, and prioritize experiences over materialism. This might not be the best decision for some people, but it is for the minimalist.
Attracting Like-Minded Individuals:
Being yourself naturally attracts people who share your values and interests just like a magnet attracts metal fillings. This can lead to friendships and connections that are based on genuine commonalities.
For example, when I started writing my views on different topics, I began to notice critical thinkers, lifelong learners, as well as ambitious people started coming into my network. Many of them bought my courses and books, and a number of them have turned out to be friends and partners.
It’s important to note that even in a society that suppresses certain types of individuals, just remaining true to who you are will slowly unite you with those who share similar interests, beliefs, and world views. And, the result of this is that you stop being isolated and inconsequential to feeling like part of something bigger and powerful.
Creativity and Innovation:
You’re more likely to think outside the box and come up with original ideas and solutions when you are unafraid to be yourself. If you consume – read, listen, or watch – agree with, and act on what everyone else is consuming, agreeing with, and acting out, chances are that you are not really thinking – you’re just conforming.
That isn’t always bad (as the already established ways of doing things often mostly align with the personality and values of many people); however, if no one dears to embrace the (weird) parts of themselves that differ from the norm, then it leads to loss of individuality and stagnation of society.
Do not just try to align with society, but rather find the things in different societies that align with you. That is what being yourself is all about. For example, you can decide to give away 10% of your income like the Christians do, embrace critical thinking like the atheists do, and live life in the moment like the hedonists do. It’s simply a matter of not forcing squares into circle holes.
Creativity and innovation are all about embracing those little differences and iterations.
Embracing your true self involves understanding who you are at your core and continually evolving as a person. This journey involves exploring your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, being open to new experiences, and learning from every encounter and situation.
Of course, choosing growth over conformity means you will make mistakes and suffer some punishment from society. However, if you can view those mistakes and setbacks as valuable lessons rather than failures, you will often find yourself growing exponentially. It is essentially how you “escape the matrix”.
How do you fully be yourself?
Don’t be afraid to offend people.
You can never be your authentic and true self if you’re a people pleaser. You must accept the fact that not everyone will like who you are and how you act. You must be willing to stomach being misunderstood, judged, resisted, and even attacked.
This means you have to stop worrying about how others view you and rather focus on being yourself and living a life that you’re proud of.
Learn more about yourself.
We are formed and fashioned by forces beyond our comprehension. From the billions of atoms that make us up, the complex biochemical reactions going on in our brains, and the invisible yet powerful social forces that nudge us around, who we are is often like the symphony produced by an orchestra. Hence, it takes incredible levels of self-awareness and mindfulness to observe, acknowledge, and make sense of who we are.
So, take some time to reflect on who you are. Try to find out what your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses are. What are you passionate about? What do you want to achieve in life? What do you dread? And, what are you doing despite all?
“You can only find out what you believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.” – Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Appreciate who you are.
When you begin to learn about yourself, you will stumble upon some unsavoury truths about yourself. Perhaps you will get to discover you are selfish, jealous, angry, arrogant, lustful, or possess some other socially abhorred trait. But, that doesn’t mean you should hate yourself, and then try to hide or suppress that darker side of you.
Rather, you must engage in self-love and self-compassion. Understand that even the worst part of you often mirrors the best parts of you too. Rather than resist or fight your shadow, understand and embrace it. Your lust and jealousy can also be a reflection of your ambitiousness and love for beauty. Your anger and arrogance can be a reflection of your desire to stand up for what you believe in and to be the best version of yourself. Do the shadow work.
When you try to be yourself, some people would go out of their way to try to tell you who you should be and what you should do. It is important to set strong boundaries to shield yourself from such people.
In most places in the world, you are given the right to think and act in any way you wish as long as you don’t infringe on the rights of others or threaten the peace of society. So, don’t be afraid to tell people to stand in their lane.
Find role models and mentors:
The best part about being yourself is that you can choose to be what you like. It’s cliche, but you are a product of the people and things you surround yourself with.
For example, if you are someone who loves to be in control of their finances, you can fully embody that nature of yours by reading books, getting a coach, and networking with people from whom you can get the pieces with which you can build yourself. It’s like carefully picking the right Lego blocks to build your castle.
Who you are is found, in pieces, in multiple people.
Yohji Yamamoto — ‘Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.’
Don’t be afraid to be wrong
Fear impedes action and hence limits possibilities. Remember, you are not who you think you are, but what you do. Just as salt is not salty because it is called salt, but because it is salty, your true identity is revealed by your actions, not your thoughts.
If you are too afraid to make mistakes and appear imperfect, then you cannot be your true self. You must trust your instincts and make decisions that you believe in. To be yourself, you must dare to express yourself.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes.
You will inevitably make mistakes when you head out on your path, but you must not let that stop you. Everyone makes mistakes, even those who follow the conventional ways.
It’s important to learn from mistakes, make amends, and move on. Mistakes are a natural part of life. Instead of dwelling on them, use them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Be positive about yourself.
Focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Sometimes you will feel lost, you may question your sanity, and you may even doubt if you’re doing the right thing, but you must never allow that negativity to take over. Rather, talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend.
Take the time to think about all the ways you’ve helped the people around you, and more important, how much you’ve improved as an individual. Perhaps, you have only made peace with yourself and have rather become an outcast to your family or community for doing what you believe is right. That is still progress.
How? Your character is who you are, while your reputation is merely who people think you are. And, it is far better to find people who would come to value you for who you are than it is to live a lie.
Don’t be afraid to set goals for yourself and go after your dreams. The truth is that there is greatness inside of you and you can’t unlock it if you never step out of your comfort zone.
You’ve got to push yourself to your limits, then stretch the limits. It’s like playing a musical instrument. When you first start learning to play a musical instrument, it’s frustrating to make mistakes. But if you keep practising, you’ll eventually be able to play your favourite songs flawlessly. And maybe one day, you’ll even be able to compose your music.
Seek Support and Guidance:
As much as it is important to run away from a crowd that doesn’t align with who you are (or want to be), it is helpful to stick closer to a crowd that aligns with who you are.
Find groups/communities that support your identity, and don’t abhor listening to leaders.
Conclusion: Don’t try. Just be.
Being your true self is not something you choose but something you allow to be. It’s like your favourite colour or your taste in music. You simply find yourself drawn to it.
Your job is not to try too hard to be something, but rather to remove all that is resisting you from being who you were meant to be.
Perhaps, to unveil your true self you need to cut off some bad friends, move to a new place, quit abusing substances, quit some bad habits, resign from a toxic job, eliminate self-doubt, stop the negative self-talk, break up with a toxic partner, stop overworking yourself, quite procrastinating, declutter your living space, let go of some financial burdens, reduce screen time, let go of grudges, stop people-pleasing, stop being reluctant to ask for help, and so on.
In other words, deep down – buried in all your unhelpful and counter-productive attributes – lie your true – powerful, fulfilled, and happy – self. So, don’t try. Just be.
What should you read next? Below are some recommendations:
- The Power of Acceptance: How To Change Your Circumstances By Embracing Them
- 10 Ways To Develop Self-Awareness as a Young Adult [The Beginner’s Guide]
- How To Develop Your Meta Skills, And Unlock Your Hidden Potentials:
- 10 Steps To Build A Healthy Self-Image
- How To Be A Better Person [And Be Happy]:
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)