There they are— the three most challenging words in the English language. It’s easy to say, as Oscar Wilde did, that “you might as well be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” No one has our exact appetites, our way of thinking, our way of walking, our way of feeling. Not a single one out of 7 billion—and more if you count all those who have come before us and all those after. Just simply by the act of being born we are stamped with an individuality that no one else can copy.
But to truly be yourself means to wholly claim your own way of thinking, feeling, moving, doing, your own way of failing, your own way of succeeding. All of which would be easy if we didn’t have something called a family or a church or a school, if we didn’t have a culture or a religion or an economic class. Because none of these groups want the whole you. They only want the parts that are convenient to their agenda or their fantasy of who you should be or their hope of what they want you to be. And so each day is a grinding friction between the you you actually are and the you that has to give up small or large chunks of yourself in order to fit in. With a spouse or a peer group or a political group or a racial identity or a national identity. In order to preserve some sense of accord with each group, some sense of order and harmony, you check little parts of yourself at the door before you enter and those parts start to add up until you’ve lost the conversation with the depth of your own soul. It’s not easy and we all go through it.
Its difficulty is its gift. For if you have the courage to claim and re-claim the authentic parts of your deep soul, not the superficial “I like pizza and the color blue” parts, but the slowly cultivated revelation of “This is who I’m meant to be and what I’m meant to give back to life,” your difficult life—and it will be difficult, believe me—will be redeemed and found worthy.
As someone somewhat in a small public spotlight giving workshops, I’m not the least bit flattered by the little affirmation in the chat, “You’re awesome!!!!!” But when someone recently wrote this next sentence to me, it moved me greatly:
"I want to thank you because you helped me be more me by being wholly you."
All the years of speaking out what people didn’t want to hear, of standing for something that few people cared about, of feeling excluded from club after club who didn’t want someone like me for a member, all were redeemed by this simple sentence of thanks.
Because besides the richer life that you yourself will live claiming your authentic self in the face of the world’s determination to ignore, reject or shut it down, you will serve as an inspiration for others to “be more me.” And furthermore, each person who accepts that difficult invitation is not vulnerable to the extremist, fanatical, fundamentalist groups, be they religious or political, that offer a cheap identity at the price of wholly swallowing your authentic self. Stepping toward your true self is a vote for life, for truth, for beauty.
“Just be yourself”—I recommend it.