Just be yourself. And then what?

It’s annoying how people spout clichés and popular truisms without considering what they really mean.

Life is never one-dimensional. Popular sayings, no matter how true they are at face value, can never fully address the complexity of the human condition.

Let me give you an example.

Consider the popular saying: “Just be yourself.”

You have probably said it at least once in your life, but the truth is that it doesn’t work. Whether the purpose is to console, encourage or advice, that saying is a load of crap. If you’ve been the recipient of the saying, you know it doesn’t work.

Here is some instant food for thought.

What if Person X were a psychotic homicidal maniac? Would you tell him to “just be himself” and inadvertently encourage him to go out on a killing rampage?

To offer a less extreme example, consider this scenario:

Anthony is a loser. He has been stuck in the same job and position for 10 years, can’t get a girlfriend, never gets invites to go anywhere, and mopes around the house during weekends.

Nobody likes him much because he has many undesirable qualities.

He’s tactless and offends people by being truthful. He doesn’t groom himself much because he doesn’t understand the need. He goes around with overgrown facial hair, bad breath and body odour.

He struggles in social situations because he just doesn’t know what to say to people. He was taught to be frugal from young, so he accepts treats from his colleagues but never thinks of reciprocating. He keeps to himself most of the time because he suffers from inferiority complex.

Now, Anthony’s second cousin has managed to set him up with a blind date this weekend. Anthony is understandably nervous. This isn’t his first blind date. He’s blown several in the past.

In some ways, he knows that people don’t like him much, but he doesn’t know why. As far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t lie or cheat or do things that hurt people so he thinks he’s alright.

But, now, he’s really desperate to have a relationship and live a happy, normal life like everyone else. He’d do anything to get a girlfriend. He wants to learn how to make himself more likable to girls. To people.

So he MSNs an online friend and asks for advice.

His friend says, “Relax. Just be yourself.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? If someone admits to being nervous about a date or interview or meeting, the advice is always: “Relax. Just be yourself.”

How could this possibly help Anthony? Continuing to be himself, he will never get a girlfriend or lead a normal, happy life. He will find it hard to get anywhere in life.

He needs to change. But how does he change when people keep telling him to relax and just be himself?

Sure, sometimes “just be yourself” works. We certainly don’t want a society of pretenders. We want people to be genuine.

But the saying is overused and misused. It rolls off tongues easily, whether or not it makes sense in a given situation.

More often than not, “just be yourself” doesn’t work. Sometimes, people get nervous about a particular occasion because they have tried being themselves and it didn’t work.

Have you ever considered that?

So, next time, please, before using a cliché, any cliché, think about what it means and ask yourself whether it really helps.

By the way, I’m sorry if your name is Anthony. I don’t mean you, of course.

17 thoughts on “Just be yourself. And then what?

  1. Avatar

    What you said made some sense.. It wld sure happen to anybody to say “Be Yourself”, so i guess the next time i choose to say that again, I better think twice before I put anybody in hot soup.

  2. Avatar

    Don’t just be yourself, you gotta live life to the fullest! Enjoy today like it is your last! And remember to eat your veggies and believe in miracles! OKAY!?

  3. Avatar

    2 days earlier, my colleague was posting on his fb status telling off people who spouts “Live life to the fullest” and “carpe diem (seize the day)”, and they don’t even do so themselves and yet pushing those ‘heavy shit’ on others. Haha.

    For this context tho… I’m comfortable being myself, not that I’m force myself trying to live a life like someone else and risk being uncomfortable.

    “Be yourself” doesn’t help when that person’s character is questionable. It helps when they’re worried about uh… things that are immaterial.

    Nothing is wrong with that term. Problem lies with people who uses it like penicilin.

  4. Avatar

    I usually recommend the following to such people:

    1. Alcohol to calm the nerves
    2. Remaining quiet and hence mysterious
    3. Asking questions as a way of showing interest

    Then I stand back to see how it all goes spectacularly wrong anyway! LOL

    Seriously, just spend a lot of money and people will put up with anything. Sad.

  5. Avatar

    Everybody just wanna be aunt agony and give out advices. and these clichés are like “advice 101”.. will not fail.. they don’t look at the situation before giving out advice.
    my method: if i have never gone through the situation, don’t give advice on how to handle it :)

  6. Avatar

    I totally agree with you. In fact I’ll say that once more – I totally agree with you!

    This really strikes a cord with me. I hate it even more so when it comes about unsolicited. Like you were just relating a scenario when suddenly the other person threw a “Just be yourself” at your face while nodding his/her head with a very wise look.

    But well, I’m learning to convince myself that the speaker is foolish but I will still love him/her.

  7. Avatar

    On a more serious note (than my last comment) this all pertains to the area of study called situationism. Most real world social scenario’s are far too complex for principles or generalizations to be of more than superficial value. One has to analyze each situation carefully to identify the unique paradoxes and sensitivities that may be present.

    People’s behavior are strongly influenced by external factors and simplistic advice like “just be yourself” doesn’t take this fact into account at all.

  8. Avatar

    But sometimes I find the phrase very helpful!

    I think we shouldn’t work on the mindset that people will stay the same throughout our lives. There will certainly be changes, and for me, “just be yourself” doesn’t mean to tell the person to not change and hold on to that 1 characteristic all the time. If a person is always experiencing & changing, then “just be yourself” as a means of telling someone to be “like that” doesn’t really hold anymore. “just be yourself” can be something like “have some trust in yourself, what you say & what you think” (I think it’s something like an identity?) An ego-booster.

    Of course there are situations where “Just be yourself” doesn’t work. Perhaps the giver of advice just has to be more mindful of what type of advice is REALLY needed at that point in time & WHO is the person is question!

    Anw, speaking from personal experience, coz “Just be yourself” works really well for me!

  9. Avatar

    What, are you retarded or something? You say “just be to yourself” to people who are trying to be something else other than themselves.

    Normally she is not nervous about meeting people, but she has an interview tomorrow and she is nervous that they might not like her. “Just be yourself” (Don’t be anything or anyone else. People will like you as you are is implied.)

    It’s not the phrase that don’t work. It’s the incorrect context that it’s used in. And the people who don’t know how to use it.

    Don’t blame the tools. Blame the people who use them and don’t know how to use them properly.

    Your example about the guy with the bad social skills is an example of where the phrase use used improperly.

  10. Avatar

    Wow… someone with no reading comprehension accusing others of being retarded! Priceless!

    Jeff, please at least read the first sentence before throwing around the word “retard”, lest you look like one yourself.

    It’s pretty obvious from:

    “It’s annoying how people spout clichés and popular truisms without considering what they really mean.”

    that she is talking about PEOPLE misusing the phrase, without taking into account the context and situation.

  11. Avatar

    Next time, use this phrase “Relax! How worse can it get? If it really gets worse than this, you better go temple pray …”

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