We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career.
Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. Authenticity is “the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
For most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.
Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.
A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single, and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.
There’s a time and place for authenticity.
With your romantic partner, being authentic might lead to a more genuine connection, but in the rest of our lives, we pay a high price for being too authentic.
Decades ago, the literary critic Lionel Trilling gave us an answer that sounds very old-fashioned to our authentic ears:
Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.
Next time people say, “just be yourself,” stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.
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