Remember when you went on your first job interview, and a well meaning someone told you to just “be yourself”? If you were one of those high self-esteem people/magical unicorns, this may have been encouraging.
“Oh, that’s all I have to do, be my sweet, wonderful, accomplished self,” you responded, “Wow, thanks for the reminder, Mom.” (If it was indeed mom that gave you this sage advice, and not a 7-11 clerk. Sometimes you have to take your encouragement where you can get it.)
If however, you were either born with a brain that was going to need some heavy electrical work, or you were raised by people who did not validate your esteem (even as they made encouraging noises) when someone told you to “be yourself” you may either have had the thought, “That’s the last person I want to be” or even “What does that mean?”
I have spent much of my life trying carefully not to “be myself.” My experience, since I was a small child, was that “being myself” did not lead to anything good. I didn’t even have to do anything. It seemed that my very being lead to very bad things, but of course I was just interpreting it that way. When you grow up with Soviet Jews it’s easy to take all that nihilism personally.
If you were born with a highly organized and rational mind, or just a ridiculously good sense of self, when faced with opposition or criticism you may just have thought, “It’s not me, it’s them.” (Or, “Fuck that motherfucker.”)
I have a child like this. One of my kids is so self-assured that if someone points out a flaw in his reasoning or behavior his first response is, “What’s wrong with you?” He literally uses this phrase, “What’s wrong with you?” (Until mommy threatened him with death a few times, now he doesn’t say it, but he’s still thinking it.) “Nothing wrong with me,” his brain tells him, “Must be you.” In time, when he is trying for his first job, if I said “Just be yourself,” he would nod in perfect understanding, well on his way to becoming CEO.
And yet I will not say this, because my son is wonderful, but he should not be himself. He is ten years old and he is as brash, egotistical and insensitive as he is brilliant and empathic. His self needs work (doesn’t all of ours?) and while he must be taught that he is DEEPLY OKAY, he must also be aware that his ego doesn’t push him into girls and frats and hard drugs a few years from now when Testosterone comes to the party. His mother, for one, can see where that’s going, so he needs to learn to wield the charisma he was gifted with for the highest good. Life will kick his ass anyway; I’m just getting it started.
Many people should not be themselves. Child molesters for example. They should not be themselves, they should behave like someone who does not desire children. Or assholes. Assholes, should not be themselves they should be BETTER than themselves. If you’re an asshole (and aren’t we all a little bit) you are contractually obligated to go to therapy, and research, and learn empathy, until you are not a gigantic pain in the ass who makes others’ lives miserable. If you’re wondering what contract you signed, it’s the one called “Being A Member Of The Human Race.” That’s why we need laws, and road rules, and extradition treaties, because people cannot be relied on do the right thing when they are “being themselves.” The last thing society needs are the sociopaths, narcissists and predators left to their own devices.
And you my dear, someone who is likely between pedophile and asshole (where most of us reside) should also not be yourself. Because you (and I) have way too many hang-ups, peccadillos, neuroses, judgments, prejudices, blocks, habits, addictions, tantrums, resentments, troubling behaviors and irrational beliefs. And that’s just if you’re perfectly sane…
Some of us have a little extra; voices that talk to us like they’re real, emotions like hurricanes that can neither be tamed nor channeled (merely waited out) and self-doubt so deep we’re not even aware of the ways in which we hamper ourselves. AND WE MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO ACT ON THESE. When the dark times come, or when life has painted you into a corner, you must not be who you are, even if you think you know who that is. You must look past the tunnel vision that tells you all is dark, and imagine a glimmer of brightness where there is none. You must lie to yourself and be delusional, because that is the only way through. You must be someone else.
I am talking about faith, and it does not come from you. It will be reflected in nature or children or salted caramel ice cream, but your eyes must be open to see the miracle. You have to seek out the life you want and this has almost nothing to do with “being yourself,” when you being you entails being miserable. Eventually your life will end up being a perfect expression of you, but by then you will already have your next trajectory.