Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Don’t ‘just be yourself’

Adjusting to a new environment and meeting new people has made me reflect on some sage advice that I’ve always hated: Just be yourself.

It’s a mantra upheld by celebrities, PBS characters and, quite likely, the people who care about you. There’s even an eight-step guide to being yourself on WikiHow (yes, I did just google that. Side note: No, I didn’t “bing” it), including “believe in who you are”; the article offers a photo of a street performer wearing funky sunglasses as inspiration.

So what could be so wrong with a well-intentioned little phrase like “be yourself”: a phrase uttered by none less than badass literary god Oscar Wilde? In my book, a couple of things.

First, its logic is unsound.  “Just be yourself” presumes that you’ve been spending some quality time as someone else, and with the exception of theatre kids, I’d guess most of us haven’t been playing a lot of dress-up recently. Take, for instance, this hypothetical excerpt of a Skype conversation and Amigo1’s subsequent confusion:

Amigo1: Man, it’s tough tryin 2 hit it off with people you don’t know

Amigo2: Dude, relax. Just b yourself!

Amigo1 (to himself): Wait, but if I haven’t been being myself, then who? My uncle Harry? What if I have been myself and it’s not working?

Amigo2: g2g!

My biggest pet peeve about the phrase is that it’s ultimately meaningless. And it runs the risk of making you feel that you haven’t been performing your own personality up to par, or worse, that there’s something innately wrong with it.

Second, and not to get into philosophy here à la Gary Wang, but it’s normal for us to have slightly different versions of ourselves that we alternate according to circumstance. The self you show while drinking with your sectionmates, sorority sisters or significant other Thursday night and the self you are in class on Friday morning may be related, but they’re definitely not the same.

It works the same way when you insert yourself into unknown situations and have to recast yourself without the support of friends who know you well enough to say  “just be yourself” and mean it as a compliment. Yet the pressure to be yourself at times when you’re feeling your most anonymous might just override any constructive value you can derive from the phrase.

Fact: You don’t need eight steps to tell you that if you happen to “fall flat on your face” or (gasp) “get spinach stuck in your teeth” the world is not going to end, and neither is your social life. You don’t need them to tell you to be you.

Fellow study abroad participants, Jan-starts, first-years and international students, here’s my advice: Stop trying to be yourself and just give yourself a break.

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