‘Be yourself’ has got to be one of the most popular and attractive pieces of advice for people skills development these days. I think I read it or hear it almost every day. It’s one of those things people say instantly when they want to help you embrace your flaws, be more comfortable and more expressive socially.
I believe that actually learning to be authentic is a pretty complex process. In my experience, giving a person advice like ‘be yourself’ will usually do nothing (and I mean nothing) to actually help that person achieve this. It’s a piece of advice in the same category with ‘be confident’ or ‘be positive’, which are just as ineffective.
Why? Because none of these things are something you just do. Most people would really love to just be themselves. But they simply can’t do it like that.
In order to master being yourself, you need to dig dipper, and understand the attitudes and beliefs which allow you to be yourself. Then, you need to work on developing them. As you develop these attitudes and beliefs, you will naturally end up being more authentic. But your focus is not on authenticity most of the time; it’s on building this foundation for it.
In the last years, helping people learn to be more authentic has been one of the most meaningful parts of my work. I firmly believe that being yourself is one of the most powerful people skills to have.
But I don’t teach this by telling my clients: ‘Just be yourself man! What the hell is wrong with you?!’ I help them work on this foundation I’m talking about. What is this foundation? When it comes to being authentic, I think there are some key attitudes one must learn:
- That it’s OK to be imperfect, to have flaws and make mistakes;
- That people generally won’t think you’re an idiot and reject you for them;
- That even if some people do, it really doesn’t matter.
These attitudes are solid gold from my perspective. Once you manage to drill them deep into your habitual ways of thinking, being yourself becomes easy. You can no longer imagine yourself not being yourself, and it seems so silly to be otherwise.
Of course, if you’re not used to thinking and feeling in a way which is aligned with the key attitudes above, it will take some time and practice to master them. Adopting these beliefs and making them a natural part of you can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years, depending where you are right now.
And this provided you actually use the right personal development tools. Considering that a lot of people use the ineffective ones, and even more don’t go beyond just trying to be themselves directly, what we’ve got in today’s world is a large population striving for authenticity and not getting there.
The good news is that the more people will learn to address people skills like being authentic by going beyond the surface, and the more they will use scientific, well grounded in reality tools for transformation, we will see great things happening.