A purely personal blog, with purely personal opinions, about life, the universe and everything.

Sep 5, 2010

"Be yourself" is the biggest lie you've ever heard.

I haven't written for a long while, because I didn't have much to say actually  (I wonder how all these people on Twitter manage it, but oh wait, they actually don't! :-P)

In any case, what got me to it, was an e-mail I got from a world-class job-searching web-site I had subscribed to in the past. This particular e-mail was about "5 Common mistakes people do in a work interview". And there really were 5 advices about 5 really common mistakes after the click. All 5 were about how you should act, what you should say, how you should present yourself, etc. In the end, there was the "BONUS 6th" advice:

Be yourself.

Did it sink in? Nice. 

So, I was actually thinking that after getting so much of this particular, and so obviously fail, advice when I was a teenager I wouldn't have to be given to it again as an adult. Yet, here we are once more. 

Maybe I should be a bit more clear on that:
As a teenager in the early '90s (I guess it doesn't happen anymore to the information-overloaded angst-ridden sex-savy teenagers of '10s), people used to tell you that in order "to get love" you have to "Be yourself", but forgot to tell you that they actually meant THAT OTHER self, which you were obviously not.

Fifteen years later, people come back and tell you that to get a job you have once more to "Be yourself", but once more they mean THAT OTHER self, which you are obviously not. That self, which will form from following the advices given above and some more, that were not actually written anywhere.

I could give some more examples about the "Be Yourself" paradigm from my lifetime, but I think these two are the most important ones. 

To keep it short, after 29 years, I can offer only one small piece of wisdom: 
"When someone tells you to 'Be YOURself', either 'Be THATself' that they want you to be or ignore them and really be who you are". (and no, I don't mean "be who you really are")

Because when it all comes down to it, "Be Yourself" is the biggest lie you have ever heard. 


skarab said...

It's true that "be yourself" is too ambiguous to be considered useful advice for most situations and too hollow to be any smart person's mantra. But I wouldn't go as far as totally discrediting it for what it’s worth.

"Be yourself" will be interpreted differently by different people. I take it to mean: "don't be afraid to expose your quirks and your flaws to other people". I make a conscious attempt to live by this rule and I must say it has served me well in the past, in more situations than I care to remember. Quite unsurprisingly, most people respond well to honesty. Other people are caught by surprise, allowing you to take advantage of their bewilderment while they try to figure you out. In the end, knowing how to "be yourself" can be a powerful weapon.

Maybe I'm reading too much of myself into this post, but seeing as we are roughly the same age (I'm two tears younger than you, actually), it can't be helped. I perceive this post as a manifestation of the frustrations that come with reaching one's late twenties. Life's disappointments are starting to pile up, long-time ambitions are abandoned and a troublesome identity crisis lurks around the corner. My personal stance is that we ay need to put on an act occasionally, and that's unavoidable, but if we miss the chance to be ourselves (and I do mean "be who we really are") as often as possible, then that's one more thing we are failing at.

kouk said...

I think the problem with "be yourself" is that it's looking at the problem backward. Nevermind the confusing detail that what they mean is not "be yourself" but "act like yourself". The real problem is that in many ways it's who you are that is shaped by how you choose to act rather than how you act that is shaped by who you are. When you choose to act in some way you are giving a small tentative answer to the question of who you are.

And if you read it that way then there's something to be said about the advice "be yourself" in that you need to make a choice about who you are and see it done. If you cannot explain the way you act without resorting to exceptions all the time then you do not know who you are and the problem is deeper than "be yourself". It is, as Nietzsche counseled, "Become yourself".

SpirosK said...

@skarab: You are not wrong about the "late twenties" crisis (I actually call it the 30-crisis). But I disagree on the "being yourself can be a weapon". In any case, I did not want to comment on being yourself being right or wrong, just to showcase what a big lie this particular phrase is.

@kouk: My point is that exactly they don't even mean to "act like yourself". What is meant is "to act like the acceptable standards and claim that this is yourself". Still, the reference to Nietzsche is nice :)

kouk said...

But what does "act like yourself" mean? Does it mean "act like you act when alone in the toile"? No, it means behave towards your prospective employer as you would towards someone who you have just met for the first time. They mean you should not attempt to become a friendlier person than what you are in reality. And the reason they give this advice is that most of the times the people that will interview you are experienced and/or trained to recognize a faker. It's no mystery why HR is usually staffed by women. They are trained from childhood to recognize feelings. Btw, our friend P. comes to mind and his story from the interviews at the bank he's currently employed with. As I recall he followed the advice "be yourself" and almost got into a fight with the HR person (a woman of course). But it was for the better because she understood that neither the company nor our friend would be happy if he had a position that required frequent customer contact (like being a clerk). Just an example of course..

kouk said...

Of course you are right that many times people just repeat this "be yourself" as a mantra and they don't really know what they're talking about. It's not a lie but rather just nonsense, because they do not even know themselves enough in order to recognize another. If someone is self-absorbed then contrary to what he may say he certainly doesn't want you to be yourself, because instead of a separate and independent person what he wants instead is mannequins. Perhaps you have come into contact with many people like that therefore it's natural to have that opinion on being yourself. But the good thing about being yourself is that usually these self-absorbed narcissists usually stay away :-)