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. 


  1. Oh God, I love, love, love everything about this Katie. I can so relate to all of it. It feels like I've spent years and years having no clue who I'm supposed to be. Flitting between different personas as I've tried and tested them out, usually along with styles and dream occupations. I'm so relieved now that I finally feel calm and like I know who I am or at least who I want to become.

  2. I love this!
    I've always said knowing what you don't like/knowing who you're not, is just as (or maybe more) important as knowing what you do like/knowing who you are!
    But I read somewhere that psychologically we are made up of our 5 closest friends because of social influences and habits etc we catch on (hence why if you've been in a long term relationship you pick up the same sentence structure, thought process and mannerisms) - I'm not sure if this is 100% proven but it makes sense to me. I've always thought were a mixture of everyone we've met, each giving us a new perspective on various topics and situations, then I guess we can pick and choose what we do and don't like, a bit like what you've just said aha. I'm rambling but I may have to write a similar blog post (but I don't want to copy you aha) but no absolutely love this!

    - Arora xx

  3. KATIE!!!!!! I absolutely LOVE this! All my life I've changed persona to fit in and it always felt dirty not knowing what I actually am. But it doesn't matter anymore, I'll be whatever is comfortable and helps me live with peace. We all are a mixture of everything we've done/been through. What actually matters is knowing what NOT to be.

  4. I've always felt like this I'm so glad you could put in into words! We all should want to improve ourselves and move forward in life xx

  5. An interesting perspective as always, Katie. I often contemplate and am baffled by how people don't know themselves. I've watched friends get into relationships and turn into their boyfriends (or who they think their boyfriends want them to be), or join a new social group and become a carbon copy of their new friends. I've never related to that need to fit in or to be someone else. I've always known who I am.

    I'm not sure if it's a good thing being the way I am and knowing myself so well, as I tend to stick to my comfort zone and not have amazing, crazy, fun experiences like everyone else seems to have. Heck, we're all just doing our best and trying to figure it all out and 'advice' is the most useless thing ever because everyone has to make their own mistakes anyway.


  6. Thank you for sharing your truth.
    I completely agree. Life is journey we all change and adapt as time goes on we develop and change over time. That is the joy (and sometime upsetting) part of being human.

    Personally, I am in a sticky situation where I am happy as I can see the road to the person I am shaping to be but without much support from those around me. It is difficult but the struggles are worth it <3

  7. I can connect with this so much! Elimination is key! I tried being the "it" girl and I've tried being the tomb boy. Through elimination and adaptations, meeting so many people-Im starting to feel comfortable with who I want to be. Once again your words captivate me. Thank you x

  8. Hey doll, I think you have you go through all of that to really know who you are. Your still a baby... I remember at your age I had no idea who the fuck I was, where I was going or what the heck I was doing but I had fun with it. I enjoyed the ups and downs and embraced it because it was going to make me who I am today. I love how honest and open you are with yourself girl - keep it up x

  9. Great words! Still thinking about how people judge you and this is the reason I can't be myself. Don't throw it at me!

  10. This is amazing. Great words as always. I often feel like I'm just going on with my life and just hope that it will turn out alright, but you just made me realise that I need to be more conscious about things and start trying different things. Not to be afraid to go on an adventure in discovering myself. Life is all about mistakes and elimination like you beautifully said here. So inspiring, thank you for writing these words. <3 Xx Eline

  11. I love this Katie! I've been through my fair share of phases and aesthetic interests myself. I think it's not only good for self discovery but also social adaptability. Being able to stand in a room of people and have at least one thing to talk about with each is invaluable to me. I wrote a post on this recently, bu specifically building your brand online and your digital identity. As a teenager and a blogger, I'm trying to define myself and my brand at the same time, which can be agonising when you're not sure about either. If you want to check it out, it's here:

    All the best x

  12. I live for the slut-dropping, jager downing, jazz lover description! xxxx

  13. Just, thank you for writing. Seriously. We all need it.

  14. Nice website, liked it.

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