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.