Perhaps the most common life advice is, “Just be yourself.”
The message is essentially true: when you act like yourself instead of someone else, everything falls into place.
It’s good advice, but it’s not great advice. Why?
So many of us don’t know yet who we really are and so we don’t know what our “authentic self” looks like.
We want to be authentic people, but we don’t know which face we should present to the world. We don’t know which aspects of our personality truly represent who we are.
When I was 15, I had such severe social anxiety that I couldn’t go food shopping with my mom because I was afraid of looking other people in the eye.
When I got my driver’s license, I was afraid to pull up to the drive-thru to get food. I’d pull into the parking lot, sit there for a minute, then decide I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of facing another person, so I’d drive away hungry.
This fear also extended into other areas of my life because wherever I went, there I was. I thought I didn’t feel comfortable being who I was. The truth was, I didn’t know who I was.
This extreme self-consciousness and confusion about my identity was paralyzing.
All along, I admired people who carried themselves with ease, calmness, and confidence, and I knew I wanted to be one of them when I grew up.
Today, I can say that I’ve become the man I wanted to be, in the sense that I am a man who has the ease, calmness, and confidence to look people straight in the eye, appear regularly on national TV, and speak to thousands of people every week.
Over the years, I’ve learned some important lessons about authenticity and “being yourself.”