Find yourself and define yourself on your terms. Oscar Wilde once said with his usual wit: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. As humorous as this might seem, it’s a basic summation of the truth. Yet, you can’t be yourself if you don’t know, understand, and accept yourself first. It should be your primary goal to find this out. Find the time to dwell upon what you value and take time to consider what makes up the essence of who you are. As part of this, contemplate your life and choices. Try to think about what kinds of things you would or wouldn’t like to do, and act accordingly; finding out through trial and error helps more than you might think it does. You can even take personality tests, but be careful to only take what you want from them so that you do not let such tests define you. Instead, ensure that the defining you do is based on your own terms and is something you feel absolutely comfortable with.
In finding your values, don’t be surprised if some of them seem to conflict. This is a natural result of taking on broad values from a variety of sources, including culture, religion, mentors, inspiring people, educational sources, etc. What does matter is that you continue working through these conflicts to resolve what values feel most true to yourself. Avoid fixating on the past and not letting yourself grow. One of the most unhealthy approaches to being oneself is to make a decision that who you are is defined by a moment or period of time, after which you spend the rest of your life trying to still be that person from the past rather than someone who is still you but grows with the passing of each season and decade. Allow yourself this space to grow, to improve, to become wiser. And allow yourself to forgive past errors and past behaviors you’re not so proud of. Work on accepting mistakes and choices you’ve made; they’re done and in the past. You had your reasons for them and the decision made sense at the time, so instead of harnessing yourself to past mistakes, allow yourself to learn their lessons and continue to grow.
- Look for people around you who proudly proclaim they are no different than they were the day they turned 16 or 26 or 36, or whatever. Do these people seem flexible, easygoing, happy people? Often they are not because they are so busy insisting that nothing has changed for them ever, that they’re incapable of taking on new ideas, learning from others, or growing. They might believe adamantly that they are “being themselves” but in reality they are often enslaved by the past and a particular image of themselves that they would have done better to have released long ago. Growth into every new age and stage of our lives is an essential part of being true to ourselves and to being emotionally healthy and whole.
Stop caring about how people perceive you. Some of them will like you and some of them won’t. Either attitude is as likely to be right or wrong. It’s next-to-impossible to be yourself when you’re caught up in constantly wondering “Do they think I’m funny? Does she think I’m fat? Do they think I’m stupid? Am I good/clever/popular enough to be a part of their group of friends?” To be yourself, you’ve got to let go of these concerns and just let your behavior flow, with only your consideration of others as a filter — not their consideration of you. Besides, if you change yourself for one person or group, another person or group may not like you, and you could go on forever in a vicious cycle trying to please people instead of focusing on building up your talents and strengths; being a people-pleaser or always wanting everyone’s love and respect is a totally pointless exercise in the end that can harm your personal development and confidence. Who cares what other people say? As Eleanor Roosevelt said once, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”and what matters most is that you listen to your own inner confidence and if it’s missing, that you start developing it!
- Does this mean no one’s opinion in life matters? No. It hurts if you’re socially rejected. If you’re forced into a situation where you must spend most or all of your time among people who can’t stand you for reasons of their own, it’s dangerous to internalize their negative ideas of who you are. What you can do is exercise some choice in whose opinions you value more than others. It’s much healthier to pay attention to people who genuinely mean you well and who agree with you about what you want to do with your life. Someone can mean you well in their own terms and steer you down the wrong path with all the passion of real conscience if they think you’d be better off in a different occupation, different lifestyle or religion. Think of an enthusiastic evangelist from a different religion. If you are an evangelistic Christian, think of how it feels to be pestered by the Krishna people about their faith and vice versa.
- Don’t trivialize it if you face negative social pressure or bullying. It’s easier to withstand it if you are aware of it as pressure and build healthy defenses. Building up a circle of trusted friends and people who share your views and beliefs in life is a good way to help reduce the impact of hostile people. You can tell yourself their opinions don’t matter, but that’s a lot easier when there are others who agree with you and stand by you.
- Learn the difference between intimidating, throwaway, conniving, or thoughtless comments from others and constructive criticism which is well intended and focuses on real faults that you know could do with remedying. In the latter case, people such as parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, etc., might well be telling you things that you need to digest and mull over at your own pace, to make self-improvements for the better. The difference is that their critique of you is intended to be caring, interested in how you grow as a person, and respectful. Learn how to spot the difference and you will live well, dismissing the undermining critique, and learning from the constructive critique.
Be honest and open. What have you got to hide? We’re all imperfect, growing, learning human beings. If you feel ashamed or insecure about any aspect of yourself — and you feel that you have to hide those parts of you, whether physically or emotionally — then you have to come to terms with that and learn to convert your so-called flaws into individualistic quirks or simply as basic, down-to-earth acknowledgments of your own imperfections. Be honest with yourself, but don’t beat yourself up; apply this philosophy to others, as well. There is a difference between being critical and being honest; learn to watch the way you say things to yourself and others when being honest.
- Try the tactic of owning up to your imperfections mid-argument with someone. You will often discover that suddenly you’ve removed the very reason for stubbornly holding the line of argument, which is often about preserving face and not giving in. The moment you say, “Yeah, look I get really irritable when the room’s in a mess too. And I acknowledge that I shouldn’t leave my clothes in a pile on the floor and yet, I do it because that’s a lazy part of myself I’m still trying to train out of the habit. I’m sorry. I know I could do better, and I will try.”, you suddenly infuse an argument with genuine self-honesty that disarms the entire point of the argument, which in this case is messy habits but could apply to anything about your own behavior.
Relax. Stop worrying about the worst that could happen, especially in social situations. So what if you fall flat on your face? Or get spinach stuck in your teeth? Or accidentally head butt your date when leaning in for a kiss? Learn to laughat yourself both when it happens and afterward. Turn it into a funny story that you can share with others. It lets them know that you’re not perfect and makes you feel more at ease, too. It’s also an attractive quality for someone to be able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously!
Treat yourself as you’d treat your own best friend. You value your friends and those close to you; well, who is closer to you than you are? Give yourself the same kind, thoughtful, and respectful treatment that you give to other people you care about. If you had to hang out with yourself for a day, what is the most fun/enjoyable/fulfilled/calm/contented type of person you could be, while still being yourself? What is the best version of you? Believe in this idea and use that as your starting point. Love and accept yourself as you are now, just as you do for your close ones.
- Be responsible for yourself and for boosting your self-esteem. If others aren’t telling you you’re great, don’t let it get to you. Instead, tell yourself you’re special, wonderful, and worthwhile. When you believe these things about yourself, others will recognize that glow of self-confidence and begin confirming your self-affirmations in no time!
Develop and express your individuality. Whether it’s your sense of style, or even your manner of speaking, if your preferred way of doing something strays from the mainstream and produces positive outcomes, then be proud of it. Be a character, not a type. Learn to communicate well – the better you can express yourself, the easier it is for the people who like you as you are to find you and the ones who don’t to just steer clear.
Stop comparing yourself to others. If you’re always striving to be someone you’re not already, you’ll never be a happy person. This comes about through comparing yourself to others and finding yourself wanting in certain ways. This is a slippery slope to tread, though. You can always see the appearances others wish to portray publicly but you won’t ever see what’s really going on behind their façades in their apparently perfect world. By comparing yourself to others, you give their image-portrayal way too much power and reduce your own worth based on a mirage. It’s a useless activity that only brings harm. Instead, value the person you are, love your personality, and embrace your flaws; we all have them, and as explained earlier, being honest is better than running from them.
- Avoid being unfair to yourself. Sometimes comparison causes us to compare apples with pears. We’d like to be a top movie producer in Hollywood when we’re a lowly, aspiring scriptwriter. To see that top producer’s lifestyle and find yourself wanting as a result is an unfair comparison – that person has years of experience and hobnobbing behind them, while you’re just starting out, testing the waters with writing skills that may one day prove to be exceptional. Be realistic in your comparisons and only look to other people as inspirationand as sources of motivation, not as a means to belittling yourself.
- Never stop looking for your own strengths. Over time, these may change and thus, so may your definition of yourself, but never let up in focusing and refocusing on them. They more than adequately balance out your flaws and are the principal reason for not comparing yourself to others.
- Comparison leads to resentment. A person filled with resentment cannot focus on the mantra of “be yourself” because they are too busy hankering after someone else’s spoils!
- Comparison leads also to criticism of others. A life filled with criticizing others stems from low self-esteem and a need to pull other’s off their perches that you’ve placed them on. That’s both a way to lose friends and respect, and it’s also a way of never being yourself because you’re envy-struck and spending too much time on others, not on improving yourself.
Follow your own style. The common thing a lot of people do is copy others’ actions because it seems like the better route to fit in, but really, shouldn’t you stand out? Standing out is very hard, yes, but you need to try avoid assuming other people’s perspectives of you, even if it’s not something you would normally do; that’s what being yourself is all about. Maybe you like to sit outside on the deck under an umbrella in the middle of the rain, maybe you have different ideas of things, rather than other people, maybe you like strawberry cake instead of the common chocolate cake, whatever you are, accept it.Being different is absolutely beautiful and it attracts people to you. Don’t let people change you!
Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and that some days you are the statue. People might raise eyebrows and even make fun, but as long as you can shrug and say “Hey, that’s just me” and leave it at that, people will ultimately respect you for it, and you’ll respect yourself.