There’s an oft-used quote “Be yourself because everybody else is taken.” Haha, very good, right? Move on. But actually I want to dig into this a bit more. This comes in two parts. Part 1 is how true this statement is, part 2 is how hard this statement is to ‘achieve.’
Why should a company give you a job? Why should anyone be friends with you? Why should your partner stay with you or go on a date in the first place? I’ll tell you why. Because you’re different from other people. I don’t mean in a delicate snowflake sort of way, I mean in a the-reason-you-drink-a-certain-beer-or-eat-at-a-particular-restaurant sort of way. We try to make our CVs stand out and tell uniquely funny stories to entertain our friends but then try desperately to fit in. We follow trends. We look left and right to see what other people are doing. We try to keep up with the Jones’. It’s frankly a little bizarre. The only reason that we get jobs and friends is precisely because we are who we are and are not exactly like anyone else.
So, that seems pretty straightforward, right? Well evidently not. This is part 2. Maybe it’s because we’re still wired to be part of a tribe and differences are dangerous. The thing is we’re all essentially the same (unless you’re from a certain group who protested in Charlottesville recently). Sure, there are massive disparities in our access to food, water, healthcare, education and so on but we are fundamentally the same. Yet we have never lived in a more individual-focussed world. How often are the words ‘individual’, ‘custom’, ‘bespoke’, ‘tailored’, ‘unique’ etc. used to sell us things? But. It’s a big but. We still want to conform and fit in, except looking at it as objectively as we are able, we know that we need to stand out to find jobs, friends, romantic partners and so on.
I don’t have an answer, sorry. As I’ve mentioned before, I see a therapist every week to talk about life, the universe and everything, and what the essential essence of being me comes up quite a bit yet I still can’t put my finger on it. Gut feeling is the best I can come up with. Doing things that just feel right on the spur of the moment (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell expands, at least on the practical psychological aspects, of this). That is you. Right there, in that moment is the closest it gets to being truly you. Whenever we think about things, however briefly, we are getting away from our instincts and trying to influence ourselves with logic and all the things we’ve read about what we should be doing or because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Do you really want to go to the party? Do you? No not really but it’s my friend’s birthday and I don’t want to make them feel bad.
Clearly in our modern society we’ll cause a few serious rifts if we just do whatever we like whenever we like (and possibly end up in jail) but the closer we get to at least recognising what our true desires are the weirder, more successful and happier we’ll be.