be yourself

Why Is It So Hard to Be Yourself?

“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” ~ Raymond Hull

‘Be yourself!’ This is a common piece of advice, often given before an interview or a date or some other occasion when we need to impress. Sounds like a strange piece of advice, though. How could you not be yourself?

Strange at is seems, we have been conditioned all our lives to behave according to other people’s expectations, to dance to their tune, to let them pull our stings. The truth is that most of us – unless we have really thought about it and made an effort to change – are puppets, controlled by the world around us. We crave approval. We need to fit in. In many ways, this is just a characteristic of being human – we are social animals and need to fit into the group to survive. But this natural and healthy tendency has taken over our lives to such an extent that we are often paralyzed by a fear of the outside world and obsessed by how others see us.

But what would things look life if you could really ‘be yourself’?

Don’t give away your power

“The King is angry. See, he gnaws his lip.” ~ Shakespeare, Richard III

It is impossible to really be yourself when you are worried about how other people perceive you. We all care (at least a little bit) what other people think – we have been raised to believe that the approval of others is important. And in some ways it is – other people do have power over us. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter as much as you think; usually it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes you’ll be flavor of the month; other times you might be public enemy number one. But you cannot control what other people think of you, so why even try?

Let them think what they will. To give the opinions and thoughts of others so much importance is to make your own life a misery. When you stop giving your power away to other people like this, your life will be so much lighter and easier. To genuinely not care what others think is an amazing and enlightening experience. Try it.

Live with integrity

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune.” ~ Boris Pasternak

Living with integrity means being an open, honest person. It means saying what you think – not in an arrogant, conceited way, which is usually a sign of an inferiority complex – but because you shouldn’t hide what you believe. If you are not true to yourself – if you are dishonest, if you hide part of yourself, either as a defense mechanism or to get a promotion or make money, you will create what I have heard called an ‘inner darkness,’ and this will haunt you.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the most widely read and influential self-improvement books of all time, Steven Covey writes that truly successful people operate from a principle-centered paradigm, steering their lives by means of a clear compass of integrity. You might be able to succeed in some senses by being dishonest and duplicitous, but in the end you will be unable to face yourself, and if you cannot look in the mirror with a clear conscience, how can you be yourself?

Don’t take yourself so seriously

“When you can laugh at yourself, you are free.” ~ Ted Loder

Will the world stop turning if you screw up? Believe it or not, the world got along fine without you for millions of years, and will do so long after you’re gone. So keep things in perspective. Will any of this matter in a year, ten year, 100 years? In many ways, the world is a ridiculous place, full of crazy things that make no sense at all. You can’t make sense of it all however hard you try. It is what it is, and so are you, with all your contradictions and faults and failings. Remember the old saying: ‘laugh and the world laughs with you.’ So relax, lighten up; don’t get things out of proportion.

Don’t worry: accept things as they are

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~ Buddha

We have a tendency to think we are in control. But the truth is that there are surprisingly few things we can influence directly. I read somewhere recently that life is no about avoiding the storm but about learning to dance in the rain, and I think this is a wonderful truth. We spend so much time trying to change our world, but in reality we can only change ourselves. If the rain is coming, it will come; if the sun is setting, it will set. Accept these many, many things which are outside our control and, whatever comes along, learn not only to live with it, but to embrace it, to love it – to live any other way is madness.

Do what you love

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t let other people tell you what to do and how to live. In the end, you are responsible for your experience of life, and if you don’t follow your dreams, you only have yourself to blame. ‘You’re a long time dead’ as the saying goes, so don’t waste time with worry or regret . Don’t be a puppet – don’t let the world around you pull your strings. You cannot control it, so don’t let it control you either. If you are true to yourself and live with integrity, honesty and without fear, then you will, perhaps, begin to see the answer to that most perplexing of questions: “Who am I?”


This guest article was written by Michael Miles. Michael writes about using your mind as nature intended at his blog, Effortless Abundance. If you enjoyed this article, you may like to subscribe to his RSS feed.

Image by *Zara.

40 Responses to Why Is It So Hard to Be Yourself?

  1. “Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centred by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” – Chuang Tzu

  2. Well stated… but don’t forget: Take responsibility for your actions! Not doing so will have you running in place for eternity.

  3. Nice article. I especially like your point about not taking yourself so seriously. Maintaining a sense of humor is essential if you want to be happy, not to mention sane! I’ve stumbled this one for you.

  4. Thanks for your comemnts! Taking responsibility is very important. And not taking yourself too seriously is one of the keys to a happy and successful life, I feel.

  5. Well, it’s the old story. If you have only sheep around you that do all follow someone else it’s hard at the beginning to see that you are not really belong there.

    All the rules, the path and the beliefs that people share. Starting to be yourself starts with self inquiry – with questioning everything and anything that you see, hear, smell, belief.


    Thomas Herold
    CEO Dream Manifesto

  6. Robert says:

    This is all excellent advice. People should learn not to take themselves so seriously. Don’t your emotions get the best of you, get the best of your emotions!

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  8. Maran says:

    Very Nicely done.
    I especially appreciated your closing paragraph.
    It’s true we cannot control anyone or anything else other than ourselves and we ought not let anyone or anything else control ourselves.
    Turn on all the lights and look at what we do and why.
    You Rock!

    be well and
    Remember, Who You Are Makes A Difference!

  9. Ari Koinuma says:

    In some ways, I think the last point should be considered first. Doing what you love to do gives you tremendous energy and confidence, which will then make it easier to be yourself.

  10. CindySense says:

    Great post … Don’t let other’s control you reminds me of my favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission”.

  11. Lust_Aletheia says:

    very good!

  12. Great post. I get so sick of hearing the phrase “just be yourself” – as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do. I like how you actually provided SUGGESTIONS as to how people can “just be themselves.”

  13. I’ll be honest, I was prepared for platitudes here, but I thoroughly enjoyed each point (and the quotes are fab!). The suggestion I would add is to let yourself be dynamic. “Yourself” can be a fluid concept.

    I think that’s why it’s so hard to “just be yourself.” No one is truly static, but it often feels like we’re supposed to be.

  14. Pingback: Jerid Francom » Why Is It So Hard to Be Yourself? | PickTheBrain

  15. Lioness says:

    Very good article Michael, We are brought up as children that others will think this or that of us… myself, as a pyschic, intuitive empath, with my family telling me not to say those things .. others will think your crazy. Now, I just smile alot.. I left an exhusband who thought I was crazy, and a few others who I’m sure believed every word. As I said I smile alot now … I am .. Simply me…I now laff and am so happy… being just that Me. Sometimes you are the flavor of the month and sometimes your not .. just smile and be happy within yourself no matter …
    Love and Light …

  16. Until we can truly be ourselves, we aren’t really experiencing freedom. Isn’t that interesting?

    We live in a free country and we “think” we’re free but the reality is we aren’t until we understand that what others think of us is really none of our business anyway. They’re going to say whatever they want about us so what’s the big deal?

    Nice job.

  17. Sheetal says:

    This blog is so insightful. It does make perfect sense on so many levels. We are so caught up trying to conform – conform to being the perfect daughter, conform to being the perfect sibling…the perfect spouse, the perfect friend, the prefect employee, the perfect employer…the perfect ccok…the perfect artist….that we just lose essence of being ourselves first. It is so imperative to allow our responses to be natural, devoid of any mental pressure to confrom to a role, or an image, or an expectation, or a persona that the society sees us as. We really need to look at ourselves with a fesh perspective. So what if our responses were not as someone expected them to be, so what if we goofed at that all important presentation in front of our boss’s boss and the client….so what ? Aren’t we human first….so shouldn’t we be allowed the benefit of a doubt…We need to hang loose, and just try and be ‘me’, and not buckle under any pressure. This blog so aptly reminds us of this fact at a much needed time.

  18. Julian says:

    Oh yes, that used to be a big one for me. In school I often suppressed my own interests to keep getting approval from my circle of “friends”, and I was way too shy to do my own thing or to start looking for other people. I always felt like a big fake. The mental strain of keeping my persona intact added a great amount of stress in my life.

    In my first university year, I spent almost all of my free time alone (mostly because I was afraid to be having to disguise myself again). In this time the “real” me began to emerge again and I slowly found the courage to connect with people who did have similar interests. This process still takes place, but it feels a lot better. For the first time in my life, I feel… free.

    The best affirmation I’ve come across regarding this topic is “What other people think of me is none of my business.” (can’t name the source unfortunately). I also highly recommend Earl Nightingale’s classic “The Strangest Secret”, in which he talks about conformity a great deal. So: be yourself :)

  19. It’s interesting to observe how many people chase the idea of “self-improvement.” The self is already formed and cannot be improved — it simply needs to be discovered — or, as I like to say, “uncovered.”

    As children we are pure and unobstructed but the process of slowly and surely conforming to the ways of “the real world” ultimately covers the true self.

    By letting go of the need to “be somebody,” and by turning from material world pursuits and distractions, we begin the process of self-discovery and back to our true self…

  20. Shay says:

    Great article!

    Loved the quotes and the points made. :o)

  21. Jennifer says:

    You will be miserable as long as you try to live up to the expectattions of others and likewise you will be miseralble as long as you expect others to live up to your expectations.

    Your point about not worrying reminds me of this quote I came up with yesterday…“Our life is defined by who we plan to be in the face of adversity.”

  22. Ari Koinuma says:

    @The Financial Philosopher

    A very profound point there. I have to reflect more on whether self can be “improved” or not, but I definitely agree on the discovery part. Watching my children, it amazes me how completely developed their individualities/personalities are, right from the start. I always thought that part of growing up is not changing ourselves, but changing what we do with ourselves, so that we can live in better harmony with the world that surrounds us.

  23. Ari Koinuma says:


    Your first paragraph is brilliant. Very concise way to hit the nail on the head. I had heard the 1st half before, but the 2nd part really hit me about someone else’s problem I’ve been thinking about — I’ll know what to tell her now. 😉 Thanks!


  24. Thanks so much to all who have contributed to this discussion. Some excellent points have been raised and it’s very interesting to hear personal expereinces. Thanks so much to all who took the time to respond.


  25. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Michael – This is really great advice. As someone who spent many years doing what other people wanted, I can’t emphasise doing what you love strongly enough.

  26. Pingback: Got To Be Real « Cowgirl In The City

  27. Chuck Bartok says:

    Wonderfully written Post.

    I was encouraged at an early age to Be ME and learn to find out what that means.
    We are born in the Image and Likeness of the Infinity Inteligence, so it is easy to Follow in His Footsteps.

    Everyday Celebrate WHO you are, and only focus on that which you can Control…YOUR THOUGHTS

    We have ben discussing these Threads on our Live Talk Show weekly since October 2006.
    Google The Focus Society of Overachievers

  28. Anon says:

    The reason it is so hard to be yourself?
    Because people like you keep writing articles telling me how to be myself.

    and i read them.

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  30. Chris says:

    Aren’t you doing the same thing, I noted several shoulds and have to’s. Who apointed you god? Very few people see the real lite here in this demention. If you ask me we do more to confuse eachother everyday than anything else.
    Who are you to say you know? It’s all make believe kids play nice now, NOT!

  31. Alexander says:

    To be who we really are we need to know our authentic, rational self-interest, which lies in actions that are rewarded by our nature, i.e. the propagation of our genes and preservation of our bodies.

  32. wani says:

    great article, but what if i am bad i need to change or just be myself?

  33. Agnieszka says:

    Nicely written. It is all true.  However, as an ols saying goes  “Esier said then done”,  we often cannot put the whole thing  into practice.
    I love, especially the last part. It is so important doing what you love. It makes our life a little bit brighter.

  34. Asadlion91 says:

    wow amazing article

    score: infinity/5

  35. Guest says:

    WOW! :)
    i think i’ll need to read this every morning for a litte while…
    what a great page. x

  36. Guest says:

    WOW! :)
    i think i’ll need to read this every morning for a litte while…
    what a great page. x

  37. Pingback: Self-Love « eSunshine

  38. John Smith says:

    Wow, the old “don’t worry about what other people think” advice? Every mom of a teenager would be so proud. Actually, you shouldn’t WORRY about what others think, but you should LISTEN to what others say and determine whether there is truth inside (hurtful or not). For example, if someone calls you fat, ignoring them won’t make you a healthy weight. We all should strive to grow each day. You have to see the brutal reality of the world, your place in it, and how you affect others. If you want to know who you really are, do things that make you say: “I’m a better person than I was yesterday.” Now THAT is a person I want to be around.

  39. John Smith says:

    Liberals will say the world needs to just accept you as a bad person. After all, it’s not your fault. You are an innocent victim. Just live your life as a victim. pRoblem solved.

  40. Pascc says:

    I wanna give who ever wrote this article a BIG HUG!

    Thank you!

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