I have no doubt that if you are a living, breathing human being, you have heard the phrase “Be yourself” at some point in your life.
The number of times in junior high that I was told this phrase are probably innumerable, and it only became more frequent as time went on. It was used as motivational material for many graduations and ceremonies I attended as a kid. Usually it was meant to be encouraging, but I always came away from the conversations and presentations feeling more confused than when I went in.
The only place I can recall not hearing the phrase “Be yourself” was my church. I suspect that is because being yourself as a Christian means acknowledging that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and that is not a good thing (without Jesus, anyways).
While I agree with that assessment, I tend to not like the phrase for a very different reason, especially when it is told to young people. It seems like nothing but more of the mindless, feel-good rhetoric that pervades our culture.
I used to be upset that I didn’t know who I was at that age and that nobody could tell me what it took to know. Somehow the advice to just “be myself” was supposed to make things better when crappy things happened, like when people I thought were friends walked away or something bad happened in my life. It was supposed to make me secure in my lot in life because at least I could “be myself”. That seemed like a shallow thing to put my confidence in.
Giving the phrase “Be yourself” to young people makes absolutely no sense to me. I certainly didn’t know who I was then, when people first began telling me that, and I’m only beginning to know now at 20 years old. Not only that, but it never fixed anything or made me feel better. The only thing it made me feel was that I was doing something wrong.
When somebody tells you to be yourself, they tend to neglect to tell you what it takes to learn in order to be yourself. It’s just another fluffy platitude. I’m also not keen on the phrase because I’ve found that often times “Be yourself” is used to dismiss bad behavior that is unacceptable, but is justified by saying that you shouldn’t change for another person (especially in dating).
In order to be yourself, you have to spend time away from others. In my younger years, I was constantly doing school, working, or involved in care-taking roles. Even with all of that on my plate, I was always wishing I could go to hang out with friends more (I only got to see them once a week). I dealt with loneliness more than any child should have to, but I was still surrounded by people, and unfortunately learning who you are generally takes place when you are alone, not just when you feel alone. It is not when you’re with friends, not when you’re with a boyfriend, not when you’re with family. In those scenarios you are only learning who you are in relation to others.
That’s why I believe it takes so long for some people to find out who they are as a person. When you go through trials in life, people tell you that you need a community behind you that is made up of a family and friends. While this is partially correct, the truth is that community can also stunt your growth as person if you are constantly entertaining yourself with people so you don’t have to focus on your own problems. Distraction is an addiction, and for many young folks these days, it is their drug of choice.
I’ve heard it said that who you are in the dark when no one is looking is who you truly are. The decisions you make when you think no one will find out will showcase your true character. These are crucial moments and decisions. While I have a few good friends that are privy, in retrospect, to my darkest moments, I was still alone, in a sense, when they happened.
The truth is that I wasn’t alone, but I had to feel like I was to truly depend on God to fill my loneliness and pain. Who better to learn who you are from than your Creator?
A lot of people, like me, suffer from depression and other mental health problems, and some of us turn to noises to fill our day so we can avoid being alone with ourselves and God. We know that if we did that, we would become uncomfortable and have to face some harsh realities about ourselves and our broken lives.
So, here is what they don’t tell you about the phrase “Be yourself”… You can’t be yourself if you refuse to be alone with your own thoughts or sit in still silence with your Creator. That is the only way you will find out the truth of who you are. You must allow your pain to be loud and confront it instead of filling your life with distractions. God is the only one who can show you who you are, and what “be yourself” means in your life.
It’s painful, and messy, and not at all the immaculate, inspirational message people will try to sell to you. And that, my friends, is the truth.
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