Imagine that you’re about to face an intimidating situation. It could be a job interview or an important presentation. You ask your friends for guidance. What’s their go-to answer?
“Just be yourself,” they say.
It might seem like solid advice. But I couldn’t disagree more.
Of course, we all have unique dispositions and an inner calling. We need to listen to these deeper urges, respect them, and give them the space to flourish. But that is very different than just being yourself.
The advice to always be yourself is loaded with problematic assumptions:
That your flaws don’t matter
That there’s no point in trying to be better than you already are
That somehow by being yourself things will magically turn out alright
Be yourself is the indoctrination of the fixed mindset — when you believe that your qualities are carved in stone. Researcher Carol Dweck has shown how this mindset leads to a never-ending cycle of self-doubt and disappointment.
So what is a better option for go-to advice? Be who you want to become.
This is a very different perspective. Being who you want to become means acting as you think that your best self would act. It forces you to give an honest account of your current level, where your gaps are, and how you can improve. It means acknowledging the never-ending possibility for growth and change.
You can be who you want to become in several ways:
1. Adopt a growth mindset and realize that you can always improve. This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person today. It just means that your actions can be better tomorrow.
2. Be inspired by other people who you want to emulate. This doesn’t mean being inauthentic or disingenuous. It means expanding your reference point for what a life well-lived is.
3. Define where you’re not living up your own ideals and accept that fact. This doesn’t mean being anxious about not performing. It means being better at choosing what actions to take in the future to improve.
By being who you want to become tomorrow, it also makes you more deliberate in the choices you make today. It encourages you to act in line with what you believe is important. And it means you’ll never stop trying to be the best version of yourself.
So don’t be yourself. Be your future self.