It’s a strange thing, is it not? To “be yourself” is something we are all told again and again, whether by parents or siblings or friends or sometimes but rarely by acquaintances who know us very little but think they know us very much. The concept of being true to yourself, of being who you feel you are deep down (a concept I don’t know that I really understand as knowing who you are beneath the surface is a difficult thing to grasp or even have a tiny inclination of), is one that, at least for me, has been repeated incessantly throughout my life. “Be yourself/you’re good as you are/you don’t need to be anything you’re not…” etc. etc. etc. But I wonder…how many times do people truly mean “be yourself,” as opposed to actually “be who I think you are, or be who I want you to be”?
Everyone has a perception of you. The truth is, we as human beings judge and make assumptions and throw people into these little man-made categories our brains create to distinguish “types” of people. There are labels seemingly simple but actually extraordinarily opaque like “good person” or “bad person” and there are, of course, subcategories based on style or music tastes or form of speech, which I feel are probably easier ones to fabricate. Perhaps sometimes we are even grouped into several categories all at once, based on things such as physical appearance, intelligence, wit, depth, perceived personality…who knows what cages the mind can create, or what cages the mind can put others into? I don’t have any doubt that even sometimes those closest to us put us into cerebral categories, so what’s to stop everyone who isn’t close to you at all? What’s to stop people from thinking you are something, or even wanting you to be something, and thus assuming that by telling you to be yourself you will simply be fulfilling their perception of who you are — a perception that can be, and from my experience, is often, wrong?
I think of the few people I am close to, and then of the others — some who, I think, have an idea of me based on something that isn’t me at all. Then again, my own perception of myself changes on a daily basis, it’s a series of swings and roundabouts, of feeling really good about myself but inevitably guilty at the egocentricity I then assume correlates to having far too high opinions of myself at times. Contrastingly, sometimes I feel inadequate or at a lack of depth and knowledge because there are still so many things I should know and want to know about; there are all these books I have yet to read and songs I have yet to listen to and places I have yet to go and learn from — and then comes the voice that says “it’s okay to have these gaps because at least I am conscious of them, and because since I am only in my early 20s I should hopefully have ample time to find the plaster I need to fill them.” But the absence of plaster isn’t the problem at all — the problem, at least from my current, if irritatingly fleeting, perspective, is that with the assumptions others make of us comes confusion. You often begin to doubt who you really are. You begin to wonder, “what if this person is right, and what if I am not this way but that way?” etc. etc. And self-doubt, though ultimately an important trait to possess I feel, is one that while it is being experienced can be painful and confusing and a planter of anxiety. And anxiety simply isn’t something I enjoy having planted in my brain.
To be quite honest, and perchance this is arrogant but I will say it anyway, I don’t think many people know me at all. I think many people, too many even, think that they do. But if someone were to give them a piece of paper, and say, “write 10 things about this person — 10 things that’ll provide insight into who she truly is,” the image/the persona they would be writing about wouldn’t even come close to me. Those images would be what those people see — or, more distressingly, what those people want to see. And it’s sad, because by all accounts it’s probably my own fault — my own fault for possibly displaying false characteristics while growing up either to please others or simply because I was still trying to figure out who “myself” was for myself. But regardless, they are now stuck with an imaginary image and strange cerebral categories to lump me into. And though the solution seems simple enough, “just be yourself so they can know who you are,” the fact that some of these categories and imagined images exist is a scary thing because they may be too deeply rooted to deal with or to attempt to combat.
The thing is, as well, that I don’t know what being yourself really entails either. My most simple definition consists of: being the person you are happy with; being the version of yourself you are proud of, or maybe just enjoy being; do the things you know are right for you, the things that make you happy or teach you big things or fill you with a sense of wonder. This could all be rubbish, of course. Who am I to know what this immense two-word concept means? But this is what I think it means. And this is what I think I will try to do from now on.
I suppose I’ve written all this because it’s all really big and often overlooked. It’s all very important, but easily forgotten. I don’t like to be preachy, because again, I don’t know that anything I think or write about is actually right, I only know it’s right for me. I can openly admit I have an incredible amount of things to do and see and listen to in order to make myself into what I think and hope will be a better version of the self I am now. But I will say, though I know it’s difficult to know who you are, and though it’s often even more difficult to be that in front of people whose opinions you value and thus for whatever reason you think they will reject you or judge you or even blatantly dislike you, I think at the end of the day it’s worth doing. Because at the end of the day, when you do that — when you show people who you are, and let them see the reality that exists in your mind and your heart, that’s when you see who will stay with you. That’s when you see who really cares for you. Sometimes you may find out that you shouldn’t have been concerned with their views of you at all, because the only view they wish to have is the one they’ve crafted by their own accord. But sometimes…you may find you were right in wanting them to know you, because they do care. And they will stick around. And when they say, “be yourself,” they actually mean, “be yourself,” and not, “be who I want you to be,” or, “be who I think you are.” And, of course, “wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are,” — Kurt Cobain