To “just be yourself” and “believe in yourself” seem to be today’s most common pieces of advice we see in our culture. But what’s behind this search for authenticity? Is it sure that being authentic is the solution to our problems?
Many of the advices we get from the world can be misleading if not interpreted correctly. The “be yourself” culture appears to root in the believe that we were all born the way we are today, and that there exists some sort of blockage impeding the full expression of that unique thing we are. Under this belief, we were born with a single best quality, which is to become our purpose in life.
Failing to find or develop this trait will inevitable lead to inauthenticity, depression and scarcity; whereas following the inner call “to be yourself” can’t fail to make you rich, famous, abundant or whatever form of happiness you are more inclined to have.
The “be yourself” culture appears to root in the believe that we were all born the way we are today
Let’s briefly examine the idea of being authentic to yourself for the cultural perspective and then point to the inconsistencies and many pitfalls it may have; then let’s come up with a new interpretation for what could be the greatest form of advice ever imagined.
To begin with, even though biology has a role in what we call external behaviour, it has been shown that more than half of this behaviour cannot be explained by just genetic heritage. There are many other factors that end up becoming part of our personality, namely the environment, education and personal choices. We call this learning.
Be yourself by doing what humans do best: to learn
I would say that learning is probably the best of all human traits. It is the device with which we can go beyond the genetic heritage, the environment and even past personal choices. It is a mistake to think that, in this world, “yourself” is an unchangeable thing from the day you are born until you are no longer here. Learning is precisely the way we have created a concept of the self. Yes, motivated by our own genetic traits and the environment we got to develop in, but never a thing set in stone.
How could “believe in yourself” be a good advice then when we are still trying to discover what the self is?. Even the parts of our brain were the personality has been traced to reside do not fully develop until late in your life; that would be then a pretty lousy advice for young people. One of the many pitfalls this philosophy has is that it tends to produce a great deal of anxiety in people who have no clue of who they are.
To “believe in yourself” is often combined with the “follow your dreams” phrase: in order to follow your dreams, our pop culture suggests to get out of your comfort zone, to quit your job, to travel the world and whatever seems aligned with a total disruption of your routine, that thing you have somehow decided to separate you from your true potential. This is were anxiety can reach its peak levels, as there is a constant social pressure to do things that are frightening, and that you may not totally agree with, in order to follow something you are not even sure of what it is.
People who are too afraid to “be authentic” will inevitably experience fear, guilt or anxiety as they are not fulfilling their role in life as sold by the new pop culture leaders. What’s worse, many people could blindly follow this advice and, maybe after having a crazy adventure worthy of a book, would find themselves still empty in the inside wondering who they really are. And they are on their full right to feel anxious about it, the idea that “you live only once” is absolutely scary when viewed from the angle that they may be missing out.
The search for authenticity is an age old one. Our life journeys are constantly trying to answer the question: Who am I? So we cannot just blame today’s culture for yet another attempt at figuring this out. The answer to this questions seems to be for many, many years one of “look but do not find”. Solutions are always placed on the outside: “maybe if I quit my job”, “maybe if I go travel the world”, “maybe if I leave my partner for another”. More than a question of authenticity it is actually a question of authority. Who’s the author of my life? What has the authority to affect it?
When looked from the perspective of missing out on life, “to believe in yourself” is a statement of being a victim, as it means that there is a great deal of adversity in the world, and that only by renouncing to what you have today and by looking outside for the things that will “truly” make you happy, will you have a fulfilling life. The sacrifice of comfort is the entry price for yet another adventure were you, as the hero, will have to endure challenges to finally find that happiness you wanted.
believe in yourself by not trusting your current ideas and views of the world
Placing the source of happiness in anything that is beyond yourself is always to assume the role of a victim. This is why we are in urge for finding a new interpretation to the popular advice. We can start by first acknowledging the truth in it and later on moving the practical things we can do about it. By approaching the question of authority from the understanding that “I am the owner of my own mind”, can we more safely put trust in the self we are touted to believe in.
It is possible to be happy right here and right now, but only if we can correctly answer the question of authority. The answer is often easier found when shifting from the role of victim to one in which we recognise where true authority is. If external factors are the bringers of peace and happiness, then I can only be a victim of those factors or lack thereof, but if I am the owner of my own mind, then it is possible I can choose my interpretation and my reaction to anything that I experience.
A new interpretation is as follows: believe in yourself by not trusting your current ideas and views of the world, be willing to learn a way to look at things, even if that means you were wrong about them, and even if that challenges what you thought you were. Be yourself by doing what humans do best: to learn
As the owner of your mind you are capable of change, this is your true unchangeable essence. Think of yourself as the sculptor and think of the rock that is to become a piece of art as your own life. If you are not happy today, it is indeed because your are not being yourself: You are not using your full potential for changing your mind about what you see and to learn how to be over it.
There is no need for sacrificing your comfort, but there is a request from your self to get rid of the thoughts of missing out, the thoughts of being a victim and the thoughts of powerlessness in order to live a more fulfilling life.
By Jose Lorenzo Rodriguez
Photo by: Hernán Piñera