People don’t realize that when they tell you to “be yourself no matter what” it is actually a trap.
Putting the flippant advice to be true to yourself or to be 100% authentic is one of the hardest and possibly catastrophic things you can do in life. Motivational coaches, talking heads on the Internet, and friends don’t talk about the dark side of practicing true authenticity. It sounds like a completely freeing practice to embrace, but the price you pay can be steep
That price that you will pay is potentially losing friends, family, and even your career.
“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs
From day one, the world has been teaching you to live someone else’s life.
The odds are that you have been living a life that is much what other people expect of you, as one that is what you want. We get rewarded for following instructions and doing what others want and approve of. Eventually, conforming becomes a habit, even at the cost of your individuality.
Ultimately you wind up halfway through life, dissatisfied, and wondering who you really are.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldoerson Emerson
The big danger is that the more you have conformed to what others want you to be, the bigger the chaos when you decide to start being yourself.
The vast majority of the people in your life don’t really know and like you. They know the persona that has been created by you trying to fit in and be part of the pack. When you decide to stop being a part of their tribe, you are going to get shunned by a lot of the people you know.
Being authentic to yourself will likely mean being very lonely for a while.
“The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.” – Rita Mae Brown
While deciding to be truly authentic means you will have to suffer for a while, it could be worse.
The problem with conforming is that while you are attempting to make everyone else happy, you are slowly killing yourself. Every day you spend trying to be someone you aren’t, you are losing a little bit of who you are. Eventually, you will either become emotionally hollow or find yourself with deep resentment for not being able to be your true you.
Detoxing from being who you think others want you to be can be rough, but ultimately it is the only way to find your real you.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – Brené Brown
If being truly authentic is so dangerous, is the reward worth it?
While the decision to be authentic may mean you shed most of your old life, friends, and even family, what you gain is inner peace and much, much more. The biggest benefit is inner peace. With no more conflict about what you want to do and what you feel you have to do, your soul will be happier.
Once you start being authentic, all the worry about whether people will like you fades away.
While it takes some practice, learning to not seek approval by conforming, removes a huge weight from your shoulders. Being authentic removes the fear of doing something wrong and having people not like you because you already know that some won’t and have accepted that. Once you start being authentic, the people who like you, actually like the real you, not some fake persona.
Deciding to be authentic isn’t a license to be an asshole.
Some people will disguise being jerks with the frame of ‘being authentic’. Being authentic may mean you need to have some hard conversations or tell people things that they don’t want to hear, but you don’t have to be an asshole about it. You will need to learn to express yourself in a constructive manner, not just fire hose people with how you think they made you feel.
Telling people to “be yourself no matter what” is good-intentioned advice, but doesn’t tell the whole story.
Urging people to be themselves is well intentioned advice, but without the warnings of what it really means, it is setting people up for a shock. “Being yourself” means facing the prospect of losing everything you knew to gain everything you could have. The price of spreading your wings and being yourself is high enough that most people won’t even try it.
The question that remains at the end of this is if you will risk it all and rise up to be a truly authentic version of yourself.