‘Just Be Yourself’
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been given this piece of advice a million times.
When I was about eight years old I decided to choreograph my own solo dance for my school’s talent show. I was about to go up on stage and could feel my heart beating out of my chest. My mother, who had done my makeup in the school bathroom a few minutes before, squeezed my hand and told me ‘Just be yourself.’ before urging me onstage.
I’ve always responded to that ubiquitous piece of advice by looking for my one authentic personality. It’s always been incredibly frustrating though, because I change personality more often than I change socks.
So often in fact, that whenever I tried to ‘just be myself’, I would end up suffering from impostor syndrome.
So what does it really mean to ‘just be yourself’?
The Interiority Complex
Figuring out who you really are, boils down to this question: What do you mean when you say ‘I’?
Who is the you that feels angry, sad or helpless. Who is it that comes up with those wild dreams, and who then convinces you that you’re not good enough to achieve them?
Caroline McHugh is the CEO of Idology and a regular keynote speaker for many fortune 500 companies. She coaches business leaders on how to find their authentic selves. McHugh developed the ‘Interiority Complex’, which is intended to help you figure out who you truly are beneath all appearances.
Notice that whether you suffer from an inferiority, or a superiority complex — it always depends on how you value yourself in relation to other people.
If you have an inferiority complex, you constantly undervalue your worth in relation to your peers. A superiority complex is the opposite. You genuinely believe that you are the most important person in the entire room.
The Interiority complex is completely non-comparative. It’s the only place in your life where you have absolutely no competition.
“We all have our own thing that’s the magic. Everyone comes with their own strength and their own Queendom.”— Jill Scott
Getting to that place of true authentic being is like peeling an onion. The outer layer is composed of Perceptions — what everyone else thinks of you, then we find Persona — what you would like them to think of you, followed by Ego — What you think of yourself, until finally we reach Self — simply you.
Our only job is to get a little bit better at being ourselves every single day. There’s no real short to it, we just have to start removing layer after layer until we find that one true source of authenticity.
Perception — What Everyone Thinks of You
The outer layer of the onion is made up of what other people think of you. It’s an aggregate of perceptions that you try to hold on to in order to define your identity.
The downside of this strategy is that it makes us dependent on other people’s approval to feel good about ourselves. We live our lives hungry for validation but we are setting ourselves up for failure because it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.
The people-pleasing syndrome is like two horse carriages pulling you in different directions. You end up torn inside and exactly in the same place you started.
To get rid of the weight of over other people’s perception, you need to become your own source of validation.
A good way to start shedding off this weight is to realize that there is no such thing as an objective truth.
‘Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’ may sound like corny advice but it’s true. And once you realize that other people’s opinions of you are entirely subjective, you understand that there’s no way of pleasing everyone at the same time — what some cultures consider beautiful may be repulsive for others.
The best thing you can do is decide what kind of person you want to be for yourself — according to your own subjective opinion of what makes a person worthwhile. When you set out to please yourself instead of everyone else, suddenly the tables turn around — instead of other people telling you who you are, you get to tell them.
Old assumption: Validation comes from living up to the identity that other’s have assigned us. Future engineer, best grandma in the world, world’s best doctor, reliable doctor.
Reframe: Validation comes from accepting ourselves, external validation will follow.
Persona — What You’d Like Them To Think Of You
Once you remove the thick people-pleasing skin, you get to design the perfect role for yourself in this theatre of a life.
You get to be the actor and the play-write at the same time.
To begin writing your own script ask yourself this question—“If you could be the person of your dreams, who would you be?”
When you recognize the power of self-determination — choosing what kind of person you want to be in this world — you are giving your authentic self permission to express itself in your life.
It all starts by imagining that shining version of yourself, and starting to act that way in your daily life. The only thing that’s stopping you from already being that person is your ego.
Old assumption: My identity is something that is given to me. First by my parents, then my classmates, then my colleagues…etc
Reframe: Identity is something that I can design for myself— I choose which role I want to play in society.
Ego — What You Think Of You
We’ve peeled the first two layers of skin — perception and persona — and we’ve arrived at Ego.
According to Ekhart Tolle the ego is a result of duality — the idea that there is a you separate from everything else.
From this place of duality is born a personality split and suddenly you have a very strong opinion about whether you are good or bad at simply being. Your mind has an opinion about whether your body is beautiful, whether you are smart enough compared to others, etc…
“Ego is always swaying between two extremes: self-congratulation and self-castigation.” — Caroline McHugh
But whether you spend your days placing laurels on your own head or self-flagellating — it’s still all about you.
Having a healthy relationship with ourselves means achieving a state of equanimity, when what’s going on around us no longer affects our self-perception.
To find our most authentic selves, we have to recognize that our identity doesn’t depend on our thoughts, body image and relationships, we are the consciousness of them.
A good way to start recognizing how our ego works is to start observing our thoughts. Observe how you tend to judge yourself when you look in the mirror and see if you can simply look at yourself without the judgement. Quieting down your thoughts until you are simply observing a body.
Finding authenticity doesnt require killing the ego, it’s not going anywhere and trying to surpress it would be like getting into a civil war with ourselves. But if we are capable of no longer seeing it as our identity.
Authentic being means that the ego has to become the steering wheel that helps us navigate towards our goals, not the driver itself — this means that thought and judgement should only be used when it is absolutely necessary. It shouldn’t be our default.
Old assumption: Accepting ourselves means having a great self esteem—admiring your reflection in the mirror like Narcissus.
Reframe: Acceptance means recognizing that our ego (our judgemental mind stream) is not who we really are. Learning to observe our judgements instead of becoming them, is what turns ego into a useful tool to achieve your dreams.
Know Thy Self
“When you figure out how to be yourself it’s an incredibly liberating, un-tragic way to go through life. You don’t develop an identity that’s predicated on being a patchwork personality. You’re not a composite of all your experiences and influences. You’re not just somebody’s boss, or somebody’s mom, or anybody’s anything. You’re yourself.” — Caroline McHugh
The most important step towards being yourself is knowing yourself.
Understanding that beneath it all we are already enough, and we are already whole. There’s no one to compare ourselves to anyone and no need to prove ourselves to anyone either.
But to actually act from this place of integrity in our daily lives requires peeling back layers of perceptions, self-judgment and egotism to finally reveal who we are at our core. Being yourself means recognizing that your ego and your persona are not your essence, they are simply tools that help you navigate changing situations as they arise.
If you tap into that sense of wholeness that is deep within, then something pretty magical happens:
You simply do. You are no longer driven by a fear of falling short of expectations because you no longer define yourself based on other people’s perceptions. You are no longer driven by self-deprecation or narcissism because you‘re not acting for yourself — you’re acting for the world.
And that’s the beauty of it, when you are no longer thinking of yourself, you get all the better at being authentically you.
Old assumption: Being yourself means improving who you already are — adding things on like Iron-man. When you’re trying to be yourself by improving, anything you do is driven by a sense of lack. A belief that you are not enough.
Reframe: Being yourself means getting rid of unnecessary perceptual junk — self-judgement and egotism—until you realize that you were already whole in the first place. Then everything you do is driven by a sense of wholeness.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of your Self less.“ — Caroline McHugh
Being yourself means reverse-engineering your self-perception so that — instead of defining yourself from the outside-in (external perceptions to self) — you are defining yourself from the inside-out (Self to external perceptions).
1. Know thy self — I do what feels true for me because I am already complete. I do not need to prove myself or compare my achievements to someone else’s, because I am already great at simply being.
2. Ego — From this place of authentic being, I can put my ego to the service of my authentic goals. Your ego is purely utilitarian, it allows you to place things into categories so that you can interact with them in the world. Your persona or identity is also one of these categories, but doesn’t exist inherently.
3. Persona — Understanding that your identity results from ego, you begin to see it as a useful tool that helps you act in the world instead of being the essence of who you are. How do you want others to see you? How do you want to shape your identity in order to act in the world? What kind of costume do you want to slip into as you move through the journey of your life? It’s time to start writing your own script in such a way that will help you create your life instead of react to it.
4. Perception — Other people’s opinion’s of you don’t matter any more because your identity is your own choice. You’re no longer struggling to please everyone else, you are your own source of validation.
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde