Find yourself and Be Yourself: Remember There Is No One Else on Earth like You
E.E. Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting”.
The problem of feeling discontent being yourself is one of the oldest problems in history and as universal as life itself. This unwillingness to be oneself has been and is the cause for a lot of drama in life and most of the mind related illnesses and complexes. We are always looking at the other person; someone who we think is successful in a particular field and we try to be that person. We go to great lengths to study that person’s behavior and characteristics That, unfortunately, makes us a cheap replica of someone famous and nothing more. And the world does not value a fake, it respects an original.
When I was in my teens, I was one of the three tall girls in my class. Rather than celebrate this fact of myself, I always felt like the outlier in the class and wished I was shorter so I could fit in. I was also very academically focused while the most popular girls (by my standard) were those that dressed pretty and talked about where they wanted to hang out and with whom. Sure, I had my own friend circle but there was that feeling of something lacking in the corner of my mind. There was always that feeling that I was not beautiful enough. I would look at the popular crowd and subconsciously wished I were more like them, you know a little less weird! My teachers loved me for my focus and all my qualities but that was not sufficient either. We always look for what we don’t have, what we think we are not and aspire to be that. This is really most unfortunate but what is true every single time is that we are a lot more special than what we aspire to be. But we don’t take time to know our self and celebrate what we have but spend all our time admiring others.
This craving to be something we are not is more prominent in certain professions- such as show business and politics more so than others. But we see this behavior to some extent amongst us wherever we are, in whatever profession. Famous directors such as Sam Wood have said in their interviews that the greatest headache they have with aspiring young actors is to make them be themselves. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”.
But even in the business world which is closer to home for me personally, I have learnt from experience, from watching people, that it is hard to get to the top by being a parrot. Getting to the top comes with winning trust of the people you work with, with winning the respect and building your credibility. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to build credibility or win the respect of teams by trying to be someone else. On the contrary, that is the quickest way to lose any little chance you might have had.
This need to be someone else is so deep, it starts early and is evident in many actions we undertake. For example, in the case of the business example, this behavior starts right at the time of the interview. Having interviewed a few people over the years, I know first hand that the biggest downfall of interviewees is not being themselves and for me personally, this is always the biggest letdown. Instead of being candid, interviewees often feel compelled to give you rehearsed answers that they think you want to hear. But then no one wants a fake! And the most unfortunate thing of it all is that you can tell that these people are smart individuals that simply are not convinced of their own potential.
The renowned thinker William James once said that the average man develops only ten per cent of his latent mental abilities. He wrote: “Compared to what we ought to be we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives far within his limits. He possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.” The truth is you and I have such abilities, so why waste even a second worrying because we are not like other people. This is what a close friend, told me when I was going through my teen years described earlier. He said: “But you are who you are. Why would you want to be someone else even if you could? Be yourself and besides I believe”, he said, “that you have been carved out for something bigger”. Be yourself and you could do something bigger– something about that felt enormously liberating. Suddenly, I felt lighter and de-stressed. I realized that I really could accomplish a lot more by being myself because I actually have access to myself- I can dig deeper and summon my own inner resources that make me who I am. But as hard as I try to be someone else, I don’t have access to the resources that make that person who he/she is because they reside within him/her, not within me! So how can I be anyone else? No wonder people that try to do this end up being caricatures.
You are something new in this world. Never before, since the beginning of time, has there ever been anybody exactly like you; and never again throughout all the ages to come will there ever be anybody exactly like you again. There are different influences that make us who we are:
Genetic – Genetics informs us that you are what you are largely as a result of twenty-four chromosomes contributed by your father and twenty-four chromosomes contributed by your mother. These forty-eight chromosomes comprise everything that determines what you inherit. In each chromosome there may be hundreds of genes -with a single gene, in some cases, able to change the whole life of an individual. Think about that for a minute! There was only one chance in 300,000 billion that the person who is specifically you would be born! In other words, if you had 300,000 billion brothers and sisters, they might have all been different from you. This is a scientific fact.
Will power – Each one of us has inner strength- the degree varies by individual. Some of us are much more emotionally stronger than others. Some of us have accomplished such feats that the rest of us are in awe of. We amaze ourselves when we come out stronger from a tragedy that hits us. Recall hearing as a kid the story of a young mother and her child. To protect against an impending attack from the enemy, the king ordered his soldiers to bring all the citizens within the fortress and lock the doors down at dusk. Just a few minutes to lock down, a young mother realized that she would need milk for her baby. Despite the soldier’s warning that there were just a few minutes remaining, she ran to bring back some milk but was too late coming back with the doors closed for the night. All the mother could think of was not her own safety should the enemy attack but rather of her hungry baby inside. She summoned her inner strength and climbed the walls of the fortress to get to her baby. The king upon hearing the story the next morning demanded to know which one of the walls the woman had scaled and how, to get inside- he looked at this as a potential weak point in his fortress that he was proud of and was counting on against the enemy. The woman on looking at the walls in daylight was shocked beyond belief and could not to save her life recall how she had climbed that wall the previous night. It was the sheer determination to feed and protect her baby that made her accomplish what was otherwise an impossible feat. We all have tremendous inner strength that we refer to as “will power”. We’d be amazed at what we can achieve if we summon this more often.
Environment: Based on where we grow up, right from which side of the pond we are on to the neighborhood to our homes, the external environment influences how we shape up to a large extent. This includes cultural influences, the personalities of the company we hang with, our upbringing by our parents, our schools, you name it!
We have within us the knowledge of who I am- our strengths, our weaknesses. To know myself accurately empowers me to know and live up to my potential. I know what I can and can’t do, what to build on and what to improve. You are you with all your specialties and flaws and limitations. These are what make me who I am. As Ralph Ellison said in “Battle Royal”, “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself”.
Be the best that you can be. Act on the sage advice that Irving Berlin gave the late George Gershwin. When Berlin and Gershwin first met, Berlin was famous but Gershwin was a struggling young composer working for thirty-five dollars a week in Tin Pan Alley. Berlin, impressed by Gershwin’s ability, offered Gershwin a job as his musical secretary at almost three times the salary he was then getting. “But don’t take the job,” Berlin advised. “If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you’ll become a first-rate Gershwin.” Gershwin heeded that warning and slowly transformed himself into one of the significant American composer of his generation.
We are each something unique in this world. Cherish and celebrate it. Make the most of what nature gave you. We are what our experiences, environment, and your heredity have made us. We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.
The late Douglas Malloch said:
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a scrub in the valley-but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush, if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a bush, be a bit of the grass.
And some highway happier make;
If you can’t be a Muskie, then just be a bass-
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can’t all be captains; we’ve got to be crew.
There’s something for all of us here.
There’s big work to do and there’s lesser to do
And the task we must do is the near.
If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun, be a star;
It isn’t by the size that you win or you fail-
Be the best of whatever you are!