5 Questions to Help You Always Be Yourself
I liked the feeling of sitting with one of the most popular girls in school—at first. She was beautiful, cool, and confident—everything I felt I was not at age 16.
She carried an air of aloofness that made the idea of being friends with her all the more alluring. So when one day, almost mid-way through the semester, she sat next to me in art class and started talking to me, I was over the moon.
What happened next taught me one of the most important lessons in life:
Always be yourself.
How I Almost Became Someone Else
Soon, Ms. Popular and I became “friends”. Well, at least in art class. She barely spoke to me outside of that class—heck—she barely even looked at me. But as soon as we stepped inside that classroom, we’d talk, laugh, and moan about our art projects.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that I was becoming a different person whenever I was around her. I wore clothes that I thought she’d approve. I did my makeup just like the way she did hers. And I started acting more like her. I’m not proud to say this, but I was mean.
For one thing, Ms. Popular didn’t like Claudia—the girl I was sitting with before in art class. So as nice as Claudia was, I distanced myself from her. I’ll never forget the confusion and hurt in Claudia’s eyes when she waved at me to sit next to her one day, and I just turned away and sat across the room—with Ms. Popular.
Yeah…I did that.
Always Be Yourself: My Sudden Wake Up Call
One day, after laughing along to another mean joke that came out of Ms. Popular’s mouth, I had a sudden wake-up call.
What am I doing? I asked myself as I chuckled half-heartedly.
Do I really think this is funny?
Is this who I am?
And then I realized I had been pretending to be someone else. I wasn’t being myself and if I was truly honest, I didn’t like who I was trying to be. The feeling made me uneasy, almost sick to my stomach.
Later I would learn in Psychology that this feeling had a name to it—cognitive dissonance—an uncomfortable feeling that arises when your beliefs, ideas, or behaviours contradict with each other. In my case, I was acting in a way that clashed with my sense of self, my values, and everything I believed in— like kindness, acceptance, and empathy.
That was when I knew I had to make a choice:
Continue being someone else so that I could hang out with one of the most sought-after girls in school, or go back to being myself.
I chose to be myself.
Years later, I would realize the full significance of that decision. I would come to understand the impact of that choice and why, instead of striving to be someone we’re not, we should just be ourselves.
The Benefits of Being Yourself
I’m sure this is not the first time you heard the phrase “just be yourself”. It’s all over the place in movies, songs, and social media. It may sound cliché, but it’s actually good advice.
Here are just a few of the many benefits of being yourself:
- It makes you happy, and there’s science behind it. Studies show that authenticity leads to more happiness in life.
- When your actions, values, and beliefs align, you feel less dissonance and anxiety, and experience more internal harmony.
- By choosing to always be yourself, you’re establishing important boundaries in a world where boundaries blur more and more every day. How often do you see stories of people who end up doing things they never thought they’d do because “one thing led to another”—where their integrity eroded slowly in front of their own eyes? When you make a commitment to always be yourself, you’re taking a clear stance. You learn to say “no” to things that aren’t you.
- When you choose to be yourself, you’re able to get a deeper understanding of who you are as a person—your likes, dislikes, what you’re good at, and what you still need to work on. Choosing to always be yourself isn’t a hall pass to complacency and status quo—where you never make any progress because you’re just “being you”—but it is a path to greater self-compassion and self-acceptance.
- The decision to always be yourself can simplify your life and help make tough decisions less excruciating. Let’s say you’re contacted by a high-profile organization offering you a glamorous but demanding job that would catapult your career—but you know, deep down, that you value simplicity and time with your family. If you’ve made the decision to always be yourself, then you can walk away from that opportunity more easily and without the fear of regret.
All these benefits sound amazing and all, but as you probably know, being yourself always is easier said than done. Social pressure, media influence, and self-doubt are all forces that push us away from being who we really are. So how can we ensure we always be ourselves?
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
1. Am I acting in a way that aligns with my beliefs and values?
If you always align your actions to your values and beliefs, then you’ll always be yourself, no matter what happens.
What are values and beliefs and why are they important?
Your values are your compass in life, without them, you’ll wander in all directions without a purpose. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your core values are, it’s time to find out.
And when I say beliefs, I don’t mean just religious beliefs. I’m referring to things like do you believe that humans are generally kind or overall selfish? Or do you believe in the existence of unconditional love? Your beliefs also illuminate parts of your inner self and help you stay grounded to who you are.
2. Am I doing this to please someone else?
Are you always doing things to please others instead of yourself? You know, styling your hair the way your boyfriend likes, pursuing a degree that would make your parents proud, or saying “yes” to work you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do only because you want to fit in?
You’re kind, considerate, and selfless—I get that. These are amazing human qualities worthy of a standing ovation. But when you always try to please someone else, you end up losing yourself, like I almost did when I wanted to please Ms. Popular.
So next time, before you do something—even if it’s something as minor as deciding which shirt you should buy at the store—ask yourself: am I doing this to please someone else, or am I doing it for me?
Be yourself and do what makes you smile.
3. How can I show myself more compassion?
If you want to always be yourself, first you need to learn to forgive and accept yourself. You don’t have to love every mistake you make or flaw that you have, but you have to at least like yourself as a person. After all, if you don’t even like yourself, how are you going to feel comfortable being yourself?
There are many ways to show yourself more compassion.
- Do something that makes your body and mind feel good—like cardio exercise or a meditation session.
- Write down your feelings after something bad happens, but stay away from pointing fingers—especially at yourself.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, and encouragements to keep going after a failure.
- And last but not least, practicing reframing negative thoughts and self-talk into more productive ones. Instead of saying “I’m such a failure for making this stupid mistake”, how about “I made a silly mistake, but it doesn’t define who I am. What can I learn from it so it doesn’ happen again?”
4. Do I connect with people authentically?
One important way to assess whether you’re being yourself is to ask yourself this:
Do I connect with people authentically?
Why? Because if you’re not connecting with people authentically, you’re not being yourself.
Magic happens when you show up to a relationship just as you are. And I mean any kind of relationship—friendship, working relationship, marriage, you name it.
When you stop hiding or embellishing who you are, you draw good people in with your realness. You have friends who love and accept you, even on your worst days. You have coworkers who genuinely root for your success. You have a love that can endure more than just the bad hair days.
But if most of your relationships are the kind where conversations hover on the surface and you feel like you have to put up a facade, then maybe it’s time to evaluate whether you’re being yourself and making authentic connections.
5. Am I being honest with my feelings?
Last but not least, ask yourself if you’re honest with your feelings. Remember the cognitive dissonance I mentioned earlier? That uneasy feeling you’d get when your actions, values, and beliefs don’t line up? Well, you have three choices when it comes to dealing with that feeling.
You can either:
- ignore the feeling until you’re numb to it;
- change your values to match your behaviours; or
- recognize the feeling as a warning sign you’re not being yourself and choose to be who you really are
If you’re honest with your feelings you’ll realize you’re not being yourself and you can either choose to change who you are, or change your actions. And if you’re honest with your feelings, you’ll know what choice will truly make you happy.
So what choice will you make?
How Did My Story End?
As soon as I made the decision to be myself, I knew I had to make a clear statement—with my actions. So one day, after I walked into art class, I went over to Claudia, gave her a sheepish and apologetic smile, and said: “Can I sit with you?”
At the time, I had neither the courage nor maturity to say the words “I’m sorry”, but she welcomed me back with open arms anyway. Not to my surprise, Ms. Popular gave me a disapproving glare and stopped talking to me after that. But instead of feeling hurt, I felt relieved. It felt good to be myself again.