Saturday 11 June 2016

Why 'Just Be Yourself' is the Worst Advice Ever

Self-discovery is one of the most unique aspects of intelligent life. 

Some dedicate their lives to it, some use it to fuel their art, some have even made a fortune telling their own story of it.

It's always baffled me that we are born with a dedicated thought-organ, able to decipher complex logical, mathematical, and critical issues, yet fundamentally unable to understand itself. That, thinking about your brain is almost a paradox. That, a system designed to home consciousness, knowledge, awareness and intelligence... doesn't know how or why. 

Our brains seem unfathomably more complicated and mysterious than our minds - where our personalities live in a gated community, peeking nervously through the curtains when something doesn't feel right. In my more pensive, serious moods, I sometimes wonder if consciousness is just a passing soul inhabiting the shell of a dormant supermachine we wouldn't even begin to know how to use. A lowly hermit crab that's snuck inside the washed-up remains of a downed space satellite to obliviously make it's new home.

The plight of the human being seems to be to understand the world, alongside learning to understand ourselves. And over the decades we've become a lot more tolerant to the idea of seeking to explore our own interior complexities, as well as the outside world. Mindfulness is a hotter topic than ever, and we've come on in leaps and bounds with discussing mental health. 

But there's still one glaring misstep in this path of self-discovery we're all working along. And the problem is, it's the very first step. Three little words of faux-advice that get bandied around constantly from patronising elders to ~inspirational~ insta quotes, which mean absolutely fuck all to a person if they've been compelled to ask the question 'where do I begin?' in the first place:

'Just be yourself.'

Now, I get what Oscar Wilde was getting at when he first said the famed 'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken'. My best guess is he meant that individuality and originality are incredibly valuable commodities, and trying to simply mimic somebody else's successes or characteristics will leave you as a crude imitation at best. If it's been done, it's done

Be innovative and dynamic, and use your eccentricities to your advantage.

What I'm pretty sure he didn't mean, is that if you're lost, have no idea what you're doing or how to progress in life, then just carry on remaining lost and clueless and it will eventually pay off with great success and happiness.

Because what good is 'just being yourself' when you don't even know who the fuck you are?

I'm 23 years old, and have struggled with identity more or less my whole thinking life. For the most part, because my interests completely contradict each other. I have two entirely different dress senses. I adore genres of music that fans of which have historically brawled over. I can sometimes wake up with an entirely new frame of mind than the one I went to bed with. 

My thoughts, my desires, my behaviour, my clothes and my aesthetic interests have never correlated, and I've spent a lot of my life envying those who are so clearly defined, who have their shit down across the board, who had the confidence from such a young age that they still use their email address from when they were 11.

But slowly over the years, it's gotten easier. 

I now feel like I know what I'm about more than ever, or at least it's the closest I've ever been. And the truth is, it's only when you're satisfied with who you are and what you're about, that you get a little sparkling key. You find yourself bumped up to a new level, having passed the first and hardest challenge of being human, and now your mission on the path to self-discovery is to find out exactly what you're capable of doing. 

And I sure as hell didn't get there from being told to 'just be myself.' I only worked it out by default... from being everyone else. 

While a lot of me looks back at my former self with a bit of pity, I couldn't be more glad that I eventually learned this lesson, however uncomfortably I got there. For you see, at the lack of an identity, I absorbed those of the people I was around. I put my pursuit on hold, and I went undercover. 

I became a chameleon. 

In the past four years of my life I've been a fangirl, an amateur marine biologist, a senior captain and competitive cheerleader. I've been a borderline alcoholic, a slut, a prude and a poet. I fake tanned, had bleach blonde hair to my waist and shopped in Jack Wills with my Essex friends and chopped my hair to a blunt crop in ripped jeans and a band t-shirt. I've lived with countless strangers, lived with my parents, and lived on a boat in New York. I've worked as a barista, a painter decorator, a sports coach and a fucking rockstar singing live on BBC Introducing. I've pin curled my hair, drawn on fake beauty spots whilst watching monochrome movies and gone to jazz clubs, and I've sunk so many jagerbombs that I've slut-dropped to Avicii and then got in the bath naked with boys from the rugby team. 

I've said thought and done some things that I'm ashamed of now, but have had conversations and met people through them that have opened my eyes, educated me and switched me onto the world. And every single one of these mistakes and achievements, trials and errors have taught me a lesson, and helped nudge me closer and closer toward my truth. 

I was never 'myself', but only from that could I figured out what I'm not.

When discovering your identity, sometimes you don't always know what 'being yourself' even is. So instead you have to begin with what you know for sure you're not. I don't like marmite. I will never wear neon colours. I don't think I'll ever understand death metal. Of course these things may change over time - in six months we're all hypocrites - but the process of elimination isn't a bad place to start your journey.

I think of it like collecting shells on the beach. 

Every single one is different, even if only microscopically from it's neighbour. But if you were to pick every single shell one by one and look at it carefully, you could decide whether to put it in your basket or put it back down again. Most of them you'll no doubt carefully replace on the shore. Not to say it's not beautiful - it's just not you. 

And by the end of the day you'll look back flabbergasted at the sheer magnitude of things that you aren't, but then you'll look down into your little basket, and sure enough, you'll see the handful of little things you are.