We are often told to Be Ourselves. This bit of wisdom is divulged in times when the Self is somehow compromised: a high-stakes job interview, the first day of school, a promising date. We’re encouraged to be Us because the expectation is that the interviewer or the other students or the date may react in a way that makes us question ourselves, so the people supporting us like to throw us a little reminder before we head into battle: Be you, no matter what, because you’ll feel better at the end of the day if you do.
I’ve always felt better at the end of conversations, or days, or periods in my life when I was at sure that, in spite of anything else that may have happened (or not happened), I was Me. So I can buy this bit of wisdom.
Another famous platitude is the notion of not caring what other people think of us. This sage wisdom is generally thrown around when whatever personal or professional adventure with the “Be Yourself!” sendoff didn’t work out, and we’re feeling crappy about who or what we are. Job didn’t hire you? You’re overqualified! Who cares what they think! Kids were mean on the first day of school? They’re just jealous! Got rejected? His loss!
Again, confidence is important so the advice to give less than half a fuck what anyone else thinks of you is also good. Usually.
Like, no one should tell you to not care what other people think when you’ve just told them them you’re planning to go streaking in the mall with a headless chicken and that Sandstorm song blasting from a handheld boombox. Because in that situation, you should definitely care what people think, because people would think you’re crazy and need some help, and they’d likely be right.
Most of the time, that’s not the circumstances in which we’re told to be ourselves or not care about the judgments passed onto those selves. Instead, the cheerleaders in our lives keep their pom-poms out to recycle these battle cries for us when they determine we need them, as if being instructed by someone else to Just Be You and Not Care What Others Think isn’t completely counter-intuitive.
Because it is. It’s actually impossible, I think.
The syllogism I’m grappling with goes something like this:
I am the only person who intimately, truly knows Who I Am. This goes in line with the adage of being myself. Cool! I know who she is! I can be her!
The external version of me – the abridged, muffled, obscured version – is the only version the rest of the world sees.
The rest of the world might not appreciate my favorite parts of myself, or they may misunderstand some of the uglier aspects, but if I’m following the advice to not give a hoot about those interpretations then bingo! I have self esteem.
Except the way that the world sees me is also the way that the majority sees me. I can know myself up and down but the truth is that the world around me isn’t going to understand who I am unless I care a whole lot about them understanding it. And when I say “world” I don’t mean the actual seven or whatever billion people shitting around on this lame planet; I’m not Kim Kardashian, I don’t need a global audience.
But I do need acceptance, from my friends, my colleagues, my family, my significant other (or, at the moment, my cats). And the only way to gain that acceptance is to be open and confident in who I am, but understand that parts of me need constant improvement to be palatable by the people I love. Maybe not for them, because I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to change for another person, but for the sake of them.
Which is sort of the same thing.
Vaguely Relevant Metaphorical Conclusion:
Looking in a mirror is only helpful for a certain amount of time; eventually, you’ll have to find some windows for real perspective.