Everyone always loves to tell you to “Be Yourself.”
If you’re going on a date and you feel really nervous, people will tell you to just “be yourself,” and everything will work out great. Before a job interview, or while you’re writing a cover letter, people will give you all kinds of advice about how to address your soon-to-be-boss as ma’am or sir, how to show up early, but not too early, and how to wear something that doesn’t look like it came out of the dirty laundry.
But ultimately, they’ll say, just be yourself. That’s the most important part.
Lately I’ve just started wondering: What if when I”m just “myself” I happen to be really irritating or annoying? What if I’m generally pleasant and friendly, but in certain contexts or under certain conditions I do this one weird thing [fill-in-quirk-here] and it makes everyone really uncomfortable — should I go ahead and keep doing it?
After all, I am just being “myself,” right?
The idea started in the context of other people, if I’m honest.
It makes sense. I’m used to myself, after all. My quirks and idiosyncrasies are normal to me. I’ve grown up with them my whole life. But every once and awhile I would meet a person and think about how he/she was really loud, controlling, talked too much or too little, should be more assertive, or should learn to know when to keep his/her mouth shut and I would think about what I would say to this person if he/she were going on a date.
“Be yourself, except… don’t do that one thing where you interrupt people in the middle of their sentences.”
“Be yourself, except… don’t say mean things about her friends, or gossip behind your friend’s backs.”
Then I got married, and the mirror turned on myself. I am not a quiet person. I take myself too seriously sometimes. I enjoy arguing. I’m competitive. I like my hangers perfectly spaced apart in my closet.
Sometimes I can laugh at the ways I’m different than my husband.
After all, I’m just being “myself,” right? Other times when I zoom out of the situation, and look at it from a different angle, I feel like telling myself, “Be yourself, Ally, except for that one thing you do with the hangers. That’s annoying.”
“Be yourself, Ally, except for how you think you’re always right.”
At the end of the day, though, I don’t think that “Be Yourself, except…” is really about behavior modification. If it was, there would probably be a million lists (or, at least equal to the number of people I know) of behaviors I could modify. One thing I do annoys my sister, another thing irritates my husband, a third hurts the feelings of my best friend.
Instead, this is what I’ve come to. This is my mantra lately.
Be yourself, Ally, except… be humble.
Be aware of the impact your “self” has on others, and be willing to have compassion for them, even if your behavior won’t or can’t change. Be mindful that your identity is not a fixed, unalterable thing (thank God) but a Spirit that is constantly being challenged, shaped, refined and changed.
Be willing to listen.
Be willing to admit that you don’t have it all figured out, and that your needs, your sense of self, don’t trump anyone else.
Step back, take a deep breath, look across the table and say, “Be yourself, except…”