The Worst Life Advice: Be Yourself

Being yourself sounds so reassuring. Motivating. Inspiring. “Just be yourself and everything else will take care of itself.” But does this really works? Is this the ultimate, one-size-fits-all life advice that will upgrade your personality and lead to a happy and fulfilling existence?

If you ask me, this advice is full of crap.

Not that I don’t believe in individuality and authenticity. I do! But simply the “be yourself” expression doesn’t lead to anything productive. Or anything that can help you escape the shithole you’re in.

Not only does the suggestion doesn’t mean anything in particular. But it’s also something that, if followed, can cause even more damage and further ruin your life.

10 years ago, I was broke. I was addicted to social media, cigarettes, alcohol. I was insecure and pessimistic. I often questioned my spot in the world. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and the future most definitely didn’t seem bright.

So what I did to make a change?

I focused on not being myself.

If I were to listen to the “be yourself” advice every guru on the planet was giving, I was probably still going to live with my parents, smoke, and drink every single day, as I did in the past.

The opposite of being yourself – don’t be yourself – is probably what you need if you’re looking for some sort of aid with the problems you’re facing in your life right now.

I know, it sounds strange. Unflashy and unworthy for a title of a book that is hoping to become a best-seller. After all, the major headlines online are pushing hard to attribute the success of the people we see on the covers of these same magazines to the “be yourself” mantra.

Yet, the “don’t be yourself” approach comes with a hidden superpower.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. We are all brainwashed. But if you have 10 minutes at your disposal, allow me, please, to explain why this counterintuitive approach can actually be what you’ve been looking for all these years.

Why “Be Yourself” Doesn’t Work?

Let me ask you something: Are you happy? Fulfilled? Do you feel like you’re doing meaningful work?

Since you’ve stumbled on this site, and you’re actually still reading it, there is a high probability that you’re looking for some sort of advice. Some answers. Some sort of help. Meaning, you’re not fully satisfied with your current life.

But that’s just part of the problem.

There is a chance that you have money problems, that you are unproductive, working the wrong job, addicted to your phone. And who knows, probably other ingredients. And, maybe, you still live with your parents, and you’ve probably seen exotic islands and the big blue, only on Instagram.

Now, I’m not saying this to offend you. Nor to make you feel bad about yourself. Simply, statistically speaking, the chances for something from the above to be true is quite high. Reportedly, the majority of young adults in the U.S. live with their parents. And, as stated in this document, an average smartphone user checks his phone every 12 minutes from when they are awake till when they sleep.

So, let’s say that you grab and read the latest book by Gary Vaynerchuk. Actually, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the latest. They are all practically the same. But that’s a whole other story… You reach a point where he says “be yourself” and you decide to diligently follow this advice.

What do you think will happen?

Since so far you’ve been acting carelessly. And since this is the way you ordinarily act. This means that you should continue to do the same things. And, you should continue with your hazardous lifestyle. After all, you should “be yourself”, right?

Or in other words, you won’t magically transition into a famous musician or a YouTuber. You will continue to occupy your parent’s basement and still hold your sabotaging habits.

That’s the “power” of the “be yourself, everyone else is already taken” mantra.

Sadly, famous people all around the world are throwing it like spaghetti at the hungry crowd hoping that it will stick to some.

But you need to realize something at the get-go. The incentives of the people sharing this tip are not that pure.

You see, the lives of the people who write self-help books are usually different from the people who are reading them. They, the famous folks, probably achieved fame and fortune by doing what they love – following their passion.1 However, this doesn’t mean that everything they did was aligned with their interests. Meaning that often people do things that they don’t particularly like – different from themselves. And that’s not the whole story.

The goal of the writer, speaker, is to sell the book to the masses. Reassure you that you, too, can make it. Make you feel good about yourself and probably upsell you for his master class. All of this, without particularly caring about your real goals and ambitions.

In contrast, your goal as a reader is to find personal solutions. But since the book, course, speech, whatever, is aimed at pleasing a large audience, you end up reading general life advice. And since you’re desperate. You (probably) end up following what the resource states.

Being Yourself is Deceitful

The advice “be yourself” is misleading, to say the least.

Exactly yourself put you in the shithole you’re in right now. The reason you’re not happy, out of money, in debt, afraid of heights, married to the bottle, overweight, single, is no other, than yourself.

You might disagree and blame others for your shortcomings. That’s normal. Nobody enjoys acknowledging their own flaws and failures.

But think about it. How saying that others are responsible for your own mistakes is adding improvements to your overall situation? Yes, it makes you feel good here and now, but it’s not actually going to lead to meaningful actions and solutions.

If you’re shy, clueless about what you should do with your life, easily distracted, and inconsistent in your actions. Then, if you continue to be yourself, you will still be shy, easily distracted, and inconsistent in your actions.

Since doing the things you’re currently doing led to a life where you’re not happy, then you should do something other than “be yourself”. You should “don’t be yourself”.

Don’t be Yourself

I was this shy, fat little kid who was afraid of talking, even looking at beautiful girls. Every time I walked towards a girl, I felt my stomach trembling. My legs weakening. My mouth drying. My heart racing. My soul screaming, “Stop! Look elsewhere!”

Yes, I wasn’t popular in school.

I was the opposite of an Alpha male. I was somewhere around Omicron – the 15th letter from the Greek alphabet. But like every man, I had this urge to get attention from the opposite sex. And since girls weren’t fighting to go out with me, something had to change.

I started with something easy. I changed my wardrobe and I started exercising. Thinking that girls love men who are muscular and wear shirts all the time. Shallow, I know, but that was my go-to thinking model back then.

To be honest, it helped a bit.

But I was still this uncertain dude who was trembling every time a girl was walking towards me. That’s actually why I found comfort in alcohol.

I made changes on the outside but on the inside, I was still the same shy guy. Something else had to change.

This led me to the following realization: When we’re born, we’re like a blank slate. Depending on our environment and the people we interact with, we get access to a certain set of skills and mental models. The bad thing here is that if we keep communicating with the same people and if we keep holding these same thinking concepts – without trying to add new ones – our intellectual position stays the same.

In other words, we don’t grow.

If the people around you don’t read books. Rarely discuss important topics. Don’t think about long-term strategies and/or business opportunities, you won’t either.

But importantly, you won’t realize that you need to discuss these things and eventually make a change. You will stay in the same position and in the same bubble of self-convincing thoughts because there is no one around you pushing you to do different things and think different thoughts. No one stretching your mind and pushing you out of your comfort zone.

I’m not exactly sure how I was able to reach this point of view. I’m glad I did though. Because, making improvements in your life, always, starts with self-awareness. To progress, you need to first admit that you don’t know. To admit that you need to change.

Realize That Your Current Self Sucks

Probably the hardest confession, yet the most important one, is that you don’t know. That you need to make improvements in your life. To say, out loud, that your current life sucks and that you need to make a change.

This is an extremely hard thing to do for two reasons. First, admitting that your life is a wreck means that everything that you’ve done in the past was probably a mistake. And this is something that our mind can’t easily accept because of the various defence mechanisms we have embedded.2 By default, people protect themselves from anxious thoughts or feelings. And since admitting we are wrong feels unpleasant, we don’t do it.

Secondly, if you are to see your life as it really is. Meaning that you accept that, “Yes! My life is a mess and I need to make a change” this will eventually lead to a question: “What should I do then?” Which will mean that some work needs to be done. Work different from what you’ve been doing for months, or probably years. However, this directly clashes with what the brain wants. The brain wants to feel good and safe energy. Changing your habits will make you feel uncomfortable and exhaust energy. Plainly, you’ll again resist this because your brain wants you to resist this. This is how we are wired.

Or in other words, if we want to make a change we need to go against our nature – quite literally.

That’s why it’s so hard to make lasting improvements in your habits. That’s why it’s so hard to change your career and lose weight.

Internally your body is doing everything possible to resist every new routine regardless of how good exercising, for example, might be for you in the future. All of this is done so we can preserve more energy. This is one of the brain rules.

But let’s go back to my story…

I was not particularly famous at parties. Regular size jeans were things that I’ve seen only on other people. And if I were to continue to be myself, I was still going to be the same person.

Obviously, what I was doing wasn’t working.

So I asked myself some questions:

  • Do I like my current life?
  • Do I feel good in my own skin?
  • Do I think that my current trajectory is going to lead to a brighter future?
  • Do I think that if I keep doing what I’m doing now this will lead to a better place?

The answer to all the questions was, as you can imagine, “No!”

If I wanted to make a positive change in my life, I had to admit, in front of myself, first, that I sucked. Even say, out loud, that I was doing things the wrong way.

It was a painful realization. But a pivotal one.

This is something more than just writing your strengths and weaknesses on a piece of paper. It’s about tearing apart the list and starting from scratch.

There was simply no other way.

Or as the famous German-born physicist, Albert Einstein, once said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

When we are not happy with something, we need to move from this:

picture showing how we don't evolve if we do the same things for years
When you are being yourself during the years, you don’t change. You don’t grow.

To this:

picture showing how we evolve and become different if we start to do different things
When you realize that your current self needs to change, you grow. Thus, you become different. Better.

If we lack certain things in our lives, we don’t necessarily need to read a full shelf of self-help books – a handful of them will be enough. We simply need to focus on the essentials:

  • You can’t sell enough paperclips and print supplies when you are cold calling? The problem is not that people don’t want to buy, you simply need to work on your sales skills.
  • You don’t have enough money to cover your monthly expenses? You need to realize that, you, need to do something to improve – stop spending like crazy, probably look for another job, start your own business. Complaining that your boss is not paying you enough won’t actually get you more money.
  • You want to lose weight? You need to exercise. Change your daily routine. Eat different food. Consume different meals than what you’re currently eating. Stating something like, “I weigh more because I’m big boned” won’t help. This is simply an excuse.

And all of these things have something in common and involve accepting the following realization: You should become someone other than your current self if you want to improve.

How You Should Be If Not Yourself?

The only certainty is uncertainty. They say.

And it’s true.

The world is constantly evolving. Markets change. There is this thing called modernization. Our behaviors change. Technologies trends are different every year. Best business practices alter. We get older.

And guess what? If we want to stay on top of things. We need to change along with the world.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should betray your desires, ambitions, and your world views – while actually a lot of times you need to. You simply have to rearrange your priorities and focus on activities that are going to direct your life in a different way.

Imagine your life as a road. What you are currently doing is basically leading to a place in the future – figuratively speaking.

A straight line representing your life when you are not changing

If you are say, an accountant working in a mid-sized company. And if during your free time you’re mostly playing video games. Your income and any potential career opportunities will stay flat. Or in other words, you will stay on this road, forever.

For you though, this road feels safe. Your job gives you a sense of security and during your free time, you are doing things that make you feel happy. This is, by definition, how life should be lived. At least this is what society wants us to believe.

But there is a paradox here. The things that feel safe are quite unsafe. Since the world is changing. This means that if you stay on your “safe” road forever, at some point, it will become unsafe. Simply because you are not keeping with the rate at which the world shifts.

Diverging lines showing how the world changes if we don't change

This is something we can all notice in the job market. The gap between the required skills so you can have a decent paycheck are constantly increasing. The more you don’t know and the more you don’t keep up, the more the gap will increase.3

Diverging lines showing how the gap between what the world wants and what you can do is becoming wider

Our task then becomes to try to keep the gap small.

Two lines moving in the same direction showing how you evolve with the world

And again, this requires being someone different from your current self. Because, as I believe it’s clear now, if you continue to do the things you’ve been doing for years, you will stay the same person.

OK, but how? Right?

The first step is simple. But not easy. You need to acknowledge that a specific area of your life is faulty.

You need to ask: “What is wrong with my life?” And even more importantly, you need to ask: “If I keep doing the things I’m doing now, will this lead to a better future or worse?”

If it’s the latter, and if you decide to do something about it, this always leads to a personality change.

Let me share another personal story…

After my wife gave birth to our son, she decided that she no longer wants to work as an office administrator – her previous positions. She declared, that she wants to become a designer. Something that she loved doing when she was a little girl.4

Now, instead of circling around the online world when she has a couple of spare minutes during the day – what she usually did a couple of years ago. She breathes design. Courses. Tutorials. How-to guides. Even books.

I’m proud of her.

I see how she’s growing as a person. Changing. She’s no longer the wife I married. She’s different. Better. Not that I didn’t love her before. But I love her now even more.

This is what happens to you when you have a purpose. A goal. An aim. You become more ambitious and more driven.

And eventually, you become different.

Some Closing Thoughts

Eventually, I was able to find the courage to talk to girls – plus stopped drinking. Initially, it seemed that it’s not a big deal, but over time this changed me. For one, it helped me find my wife. For two, my wife gave birth to our gorgeous son. For three, I no longer feel strange when I want to share my opinion.

The lack of shyness boosted my confidence. Which eventually helped me in numerous ways.

So, if you’re looking for a way to become better. To make a positive change in your life. You need to stop being yourself and stop doing what you are currently doing.

After all, since your current self brought you here. And if here, is not what you want. Then obviously something needs to change. And that’s you. It’s always you.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Rumi


Footnotes:

  1. This is not entirely true. A lot of folks are simply selling a flashy lifestyle. They want to convince you that their life is good so they can sell you some sort of service.
  2. As stated in the linked document, defence mechanisms are unconscious psychological operations that function to protect a person from anxiety-producing thoughts and feelings.
  3. According to Coursera, there are not enough trained workers to support global digitization and the changes in the market space.
  4. Well, technically, she wasn’t obsessed with graphic design. She loved to draw. But you get the point.
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