Have you seen the Hunger Games movies? My favorite part was the facial hair of the men in the capitol territory – crazy designs and patterns. Since I was blessed with an excessive amount of facial hair, I have been shaving weird designs and patterns in my beard ever since I was 14. I even won 2nd place in a beard art contest once. It was a fundraiser for tsunami relief, so I shaved big waves onto my face. But I was always worried about what people would think of me. In this blog post, we will explore what it means to be yourself.
Before an interview or meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, people will tell you to just be yourself. But what does that even mean?
Are you the same person now as you were yesterday? Most people would say yes. Are you the same person now as when you were five? Probably not, that little kid could barely do anything for himself! Except that as a kid you didn’t have to be yourself, you just were. Now, in light of all the school you have been through and all the pressure from the media, your friends, career advisors, and your parents you have to learn to be yourself all over again.
For many a big part of learning to be yourself is so that you can do your life’s work (do what you are meant to be doing). People say you are not your job. But some part of you is what you are doing for money. And it is tough because we get to chose what we want to do, and sometimes we still don’t know if our career is really what we were meant to do. In the old days if your dad was a blacksmith, then you would probably be a blacksmith too. You would never have to make a career decision, because it was already made for you, even in your last name (smith, farmer, etc).
Part of the reason why I turned down a free PhD was that I finally admitted that I was doing research science not because I loved it, but because I thought I should be doing it. Once you figure out who you are and what you love, you can start moving in the direction of getting paid to do what you love. Finding you passionÂ is just one important circle in the venn diagram of finding a dream job (The others are what you are good at and what the world will pay you to do).
In Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, he talks about famous people who were trying to be their heroes (David letterman was trying to be Johhny Carson but wound up as David Letterman). Take all the good things about your heroes and try to be like them. Fake it till you make it actually works and you will end up yourself.
E.M. Forster said ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I take this to mean that in order to find out about your true thoughts, you need to express them. In order to do what you like to do, you need to do lots of things, so you have a good enough sample size. You might not even know who you are when you start a journey, but you better start anyway.
I’m a big fan of learning about yourself by looking to the past. What have you always loved to do? What did you do as a child when no one was making you do something. What do you do you get sucked into that makes time slow down?
We learn how to act from our peers and our families. But what about the unique individual inside each of us? There is a constant battle between how the external pressure of how you should act, feel, think, or do, and what you want to do and be.
Sometimes I envy gay men and actors, because it seems like you could get a free pass to be silly, wear bright clothes, talk in different voices, break into song, or otherwise do things that manly men refrain from doing.
People love the saying that “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” This is to encourage you to choose those people wisely and remind you that what you are exposed to is going to find its way into your thoughts. So you can pick what goes in to your brain.
There is a certain phenomenon that until something hard gets done the first time (surfing a 75 foot wave or free soloing half dome), there is a weird block, but once the seal is broken, the floodgates open more people go and do that feat. If you surround yourself with people at a high level, you are not limited by thinking something can’t be done.
A big part of being yourself is confidence. I understand that lots of people feel shy and lots of people don’t want to look silly in front of other people. I never wanted to let on that I wasn’t perfect at something. I was shy about sharing my failures. Well it turns out, that when you are open about your shortcomings, it makes people like you more. Who knew!
Ok, so how do you become confident? Cultivate self worth, practice being interesting, love people.
I used to think that I had to be really interesting as a person so that people would like me. After reading How To Win Friends and Influence People it is clear that you really need to be interested in order to be interesting. Cultivating a repertoire of good questions (like what to ask on a road trip) to ask people and cut to the core of who they are makes it much easier to be confident. You can get on Quora and practice asking good questions, or see examples.
To cultivate self worth, make little lists of your accomplishment and what you are good at. Refer to these lists whenever you find yourself talking down to yourself. Make a mental movie of the times when you did something great and were surrounded by people supporting and congratulating you. Play that in your head before you do something that intimidates you. Make a mental list of all the people that love you and see yourself how they see you. They will love you and forgive you no matter what. So now you can love yourself no matter what.
Take some improv classes – it will make you more charismatic. This is the best way that I have found that you can rapidly try out little bits of your personality. If you are nervous to say something, try being extra weird in improv class. Maybe you will get laughs, maybe you will kill the scene, but everyone knows you are just learning and playing. An improv character is like a personality prototype. Try out different way of acting and being and see what people like, see what you like.
It can be easier to be confident by remembering that everyone wants you to succeed. When we go to the theater, we want to actors to remember their lines. When we listen to the CEO, we want to be motivated. When we read an article, we want the author to entertain and enlighten us. We all want each other to succeed. You have a whole army behind you pulling for you to be yourself and share it with the world. Being yourself alone is ok too. But I bet people really want to see what you have to share.
There is no such thing as guilty pleasures. If you love sexy vampire novels, just love them. You can’t afford to beat yourself up over what you like or don’t like. Other people might not like the same stuff that you like – that is ok. My wife Mary and I have exact opposite tastes when it comes to jewelry. She likes delicate little pendants, and I would be perfectly happy to wear a gem encrusted tooth from a saber toothed tiger or a shark.
Being yourself isn’t a stagnant proposition. You will always be changing (remember the five-year-old-you?). Being the best version of yourself is a never ending process. It might seem like there is a lot of bouncing around. For a few years you might want to get really good at some sport. Then you might want to read a lot of books. Doing all these things is an expression of what you value as prioritize.
Look at where you spend your discretionary income. Is it on premium chocolate or expensive toys? What is it about those things that you value? Looking into where you spend you time and money can give you insights into who you are.
We do things because we want to feel a certain way. So get touchy-feely and talk about your feelings. If you are upset, what are the feelings that are rolling around your brain that make you upset? Keep peeling back the layers of the onion. You really want to do something – is it for you, or is it for someone else? Just like with the guilty pleasures, let yourself feel what comes and don’t try to stamp them out, feelings are an important guide.
I have been trying for years to be myself outwardly and inwardly. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet. What I say isn’t a fact, just what I have found to be important. Hopefully you can take some of these thoughts and use them in your own quest.
Question: What is the hardest part of being yourself? Leave your answer in the comments below!
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