Time to Ditch "Be Yourself"


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Here is my weekly letter on mental models, performance, business and entrepreneurship.

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What’s in today’s newsletter?

  1. “Be Yourself” is a recipe for inaction: Ditch the vague platitudes. Embrace all your sides and strategically deploy the one that moves you forward.

  2. Authenticity is a choice, not a default: Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Consciously lead with what the situation demands, not what comes easiest.

  3. Vulnerability is fuel for connection: Your inner circle deserves the real you, flaws and all. Calculated perfection creates distance, honest messiness fosters genuine bonds.

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The Multitudes Within

"Be yourself."

The well-meaning advice plastered on motivational posters and whispered by concerned aunts the world over.

Sounds nice in theory, right? A comforting idea for those moments when we feel like imposters, fumbling awkwardly through new job interviews or high-stakes presentations.

But here's the thing…it's pretty terrible, lazy advice. Why? Because it's woefully incomplete and often downright lazy.

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine gearing up for an important meeting. You've spent days carefully crafting your pitch, meticulously researching every nuanced detail. You step into that room, ready to crush it…and the first thing someone tells you is, "Just be yourself."

…Helpful. Thanks a bunch.

See, the trouble is you are not a monolith. We all contain a complex cocktail of personalities, strengths, and quirks. Which version of yourself should you "be"? The goofy, pun-loving friend from brunch? The ultra-competitive version you channel on the basketball court? The quiet, introspective poet who emerges in solitude?

The Multitudes Within

The truth is, there's no single "you" to whip out for every situation life tosses your way. "Being yourself" implies a static, unchanging identity, and that, my friends, is a myth. We grow, we evolve, we adapt.

Imagine yourself as an RPG character (remember those?). You have different skill sets – charisma, intellect, focus, whatever your build focuses on. Now, when facing different challenges, you wisely choose which of those skills to bring to the forefront. 

That's not being fake, that's being strategic.

So, instead of "be yourself," I propose an upgrade:

"You have multitudes. Which version of yourself is suited to the task? The negotiator, the visionary, the empathetic listener… deploy strategically."

The School of Applied Self-ness

Let's break this down into a few actionable steps:

  1. The Inventory: It's time to Marie Kondo your personality. Not everything sparks joy, but it's all useful data. Start by listing your strengths, weaknesses, and the different "roles" you play in life. Brutal honesty is your friend here.

  2. Situational Awareness: Just like a good spy scopes out the scene before a mission, analyze the situation you're about to enter. What's the goal? Who's the audience? What outcome do you want?

  3. Skill Match: Time to play to your strengths. If a negotiation calls for cool-headed logic, maybe downplay the emotional side and channel your inner data analyst. Need to inspire a team? Time for the charismatic hype-machine to take the stage.

Here’s some real-world scenarios where this approach pays off:

Scenario 1: The Difficult Conversation

Nobody likes confrontation, but sometimes you need to address a tough issue. Maybe it's a conflict with a coworker, a delicate piece of feedback, or a heart-to-heart with a loved one. In these situations, the "blunt and brutally honest" version of you might not be the best ambassador.

  • Deploy the Empath: Focus on understanding the other person's perspective. Let your genuine compassion lead as you carefully build a bridge to connect perspectives. Think of yourself as a skilled diplomat, negotiating a peaceful resolution for all parties involved.

Scenario 2: The Big Presentation

You're up on stage, about to deliver the pitch of a lifetime. This isn't the time for your shy, self-deprecating side. Time to bring the thunder.

  • Deploy the Visionary: Channel boundless enthusiasm and infectious energy. Paint a vivid picture of the future, the possibilities, the sheer awesomeness of the idea you're presenting. Let your passion carry the day, sweeping the audience along with you.

Scenario 3: The Job Interview

First impressions matter. You need to exude competence and confidence, but also build a genuine connection. Where's the sweet spot?

  • Deploy the Strategist: Balance warmth with professionalism. Showcase your research on the role and company, weaving in how your particular skills and experiences make you the perfect fit. Think of yourself as a puzzle piece, demonstrating exactly how you'll slot into their larger picture.

The Art of the Shift

Now, does this mean you're "faking it"? No. You're not suddenly a different person, just emphasizing certain traits over others. The key is to understand your own defaults. If you're naturally analytical, you might need to work on amplifying your charisma. If you're a people-pleaser, it'll be valuable to practice assertive communication.

This isn't about losing yourself; it's about gaining self-awareness. The more you understand your strengths and weaknesses, the more you can consciously play to the situation at hand.

A Word on Personal Growth

This approach naturally ties into your personal development journey. As you learn more, gain experience, and challenge yourself, the pool of "personas" you can tap into expands. What might feel forced now can become second nature with practice.

A Caveat

Does this mean you need to be ruthlessly calculated with every interaction? Absolutely not. Authenticity is still key, but let's think of it as calibrated authenticity. It's about showcasing the "you" that's best equipped to get the job done.

And the elephant in the room. What about truly close relationships? Should you also be constantly strategizing with your friends, partners, or family? Here's where a balanced approach is crucial. While a degree of adaptability is always useful, your closest circle deserves a healthy dose of the unfiltered, messy, REAL you. Those are the people who earn the right to see everything, even the not-so-shiny parts.

Until then, remember – you're not just one thing. You're a dynamic, adaptable force. Unleash the right part of yourself at the right time, and the world won't know what hit it.

Have a great weekend!


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