Rethinking “Just Be Yourself” Advice

This article was quite an eye opener for me because I had always thought authenticity was an important goal for relationships and that always meant just being yourself.

This article forced me to rethink my definition of authenticity.

The concept is pretty simple; the advice to “just be yourself” isn’t always the most beneficial. Being your true “inner self” implies that who you are is static or “fixed” and cannot be evolved.  This is never true; we are all learning and constantly evolving as time goes on.  Authenticity is created by trying to evolve your inner self to be more like the image of yourself in which you try to project.  Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.

Imagine the opposite; if we were all perfectly honest about our inner-most thoughts.

A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic and transparent. 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.

It is safe to say that we shouldn’t always share exactly what is on our minds all the time.

The concept of self-monitoring is what drives behavior. If you’re a high self-monitor then you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. A high self-monitor tends to hate social awkwardness and desperately wants to avoid offending anyone.  On the other hand, if you’re a low self-monitor then you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances.

Low self-monitoring people think high self-monitors are phonies, and high self-monitoring people tend to think low self-monitors are jerks.

There is a time and a place for more inner openness.  Research suggests that low self-monitors have happier marriages and a lower rate of divorce; trust and a genuine connection are needed.

Both in work and in the rest of our lives, it is usually the opposite.  High self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations. These high self-monitors spend more time finding out what others need and helping them than low self-monitors, therefore, their actions are not phony or fraudulent to others.

The next time someone says, “just be yourself,” feel free to be cautious. Not everyone wants to hear everything that’s in your head; they just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.