By Priya Jain
“Be yourself—not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” ~Henry David Thoreau
How many times have people told you to just be yourself? A million times perhaps.
How many times have you felt able to do this?
Until a few months ago, I thought this was frighteningly hollow advice, like “Don’t worry.” And I had no clue how to be myself. What does it even mean?
The Simple Secret to Being Yourself
My friend continuously tells me that being yourself means doing things you want to do and not caring about what others think.
I disagree with that definition. It makes “being yourself” too simplistic. I learned what it really means to be yourself after an eye opening incident.
I always thought parties signified fun, but no matter how much I tried to enjoy them, I couldn’t. I hated the entire process of getting ready, going, dancing, eating, and coming back. I would have preferred to read a book or visit a monument any day.
For years, I thought I didn’t know how to have fun.
But I have fun when I read or visit monuments, the same way people have fun when they go to parties.
I struggled to accept that, because this required me to accept that I didn’t have fun in the conventional sense. It meant accepting that my idea of fun might be boring to many people.
Being yourself means having the courage to accept yourself. It means having the courage to understand that you are a particular set of characteristic and no matter what you do, there will be a few things that will never be you.
It’s hard to do this because you have to accept that you’re different from other people. But that difference doesn’t have to depress you or define you.
You cannot be everything. You don’t have to be everything.
You simply have to be you. And that is enough.
3 Steps to Being Yourself
There are no rules to being you because being yourself is (and has to be) different for everyone. I humbly offer a few guidelines that will help.
1. Get to know yourself.
In order to be yourself, you first need to find out who you really are. Are you a party person or not? Do you like starting things or ending them? Do you take small steps or huge steps?
This involves a lot of soul searching. I did this by asking myself a lot of questions on many different topics.
This is the only way you will ever get to know who you are.
Some questions to consider:
- Am I an early riser or a night owl?
- Am I comfortable being part of a large group or do I prefer to have a few close friends?
- Am I an introvert or an extrovert?
- Do I thrive on adventure or like to keep things low-key?
- Do I prefer change or consistency?
- Do I like to jump right in or take things slowly?
- Do I embrace rules or rebel against them?
- What makes me unique?
- How do I want people to remember me when I’m gone?
- What do I value most in life?
- What do I like to do with my free time?
- What makes me excited? Does that make me happy too?
- Do I value things more than experiences, or vice versa?
- How do I define success in life?
- What would I do if money were no object?
2. Become comfortable with yourself, flaws and all.
Once you start learning about yourself, it is essential not to judge yourself.
Judging yourself will create a barrier to embracing who you really are.
You need to accept all of yourself, flaws and all. We are all imperfect.
I frequently say things that I regret later. This is a flaw, and I am working on this. But every once in a while I disappoint myself, and then I start judging myself. This leads to a state of mind that isn’t conducive for making positive changes.
There are other things you’ll discover about yourself that you don’t have to “work on.” I may be tempted to judge myself because I don’t like parties, but that’s not actually a flaw.
In addition to letting go of your own judgment, you have to stop worrying about what others think about you.
Don’t be indifferent to other people’s opinions; merely be detached. There is a difference.
Indifference says, “I don’t care,” whereas detachment says, “I accept whatever others think about me.” It means not hating other people for having different opinions or being influenced by their perception of you.
3. Stop once in a while to check in with yourself.
Life is busy. And I love that. I can’t handle slow. I find it painfully boring.
But the busyness of life can also be an obstacle to being yourself if it means you don’t have time to reflect, or you end up living on autopilot and don’t know what you want anymore.
We need time to rest and rejuvenate so we can check in with ourselves.
There are a few easy ways to stop once in a while:
- Travel alone and don’t read or use your phone.
- Take ten minutes at night to think about your actions and motivations. (I did that because…)
- Go for a walk in the park and instead of listening to music, listen to your thoughts.
All of this might be hard and uncomfortable if you don’t already do these things regularly. You might be tempted to reject yourself and you may need to use your limited supply of courage.
I was scared too. In the end, though, it was worth it.
Striving to Be a Better You
This leaves us with a single question.
Does being myself mean I do not strive to be a better me?
The answer is yes. And no. Well, it’s complicated. Yet simple.
If striving to be better means you constantly focus on your flaws and judge yourself, then it’s stupid to strive to be better. Because however good you get, there will always be room for improvement.
However, if it means you are happy with who you are and think you could be even more, then yes. Striving to be better is the way to go.
It takes courage to accept who you truly are, but it’s a lot easier if you remember there’s nothing wrong with who you are—and the only way to be happy is to embrace it.
Priya is the founder of Work With Change – a place where people come together to discover what makes them tick and find habits that build on their behavior.
Stand out from the crowd image via Shutterstock
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