“Just be yourself” – Why it’s really bad advice

Like many coaches and leadership consultants out there, I use social media from time to time to express and share interesting ideas that arise during my professional engagements. Doing so allows me to showcase a bit of my expertise, refine my thinking about important topics, and help others whose current circumstances might render these ideas particularly relevant.

Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of online self-help gurus lacking experience, training, and wisdom. Their desire to be seen and heard is far greater than their sense of accountability to professional standards or best-practices. Their advice, therefore, must be taken with a grain of salt.

In my opinion, among the most objectionable of their counterproductive messages is one deserving of the trash heap: Just be yourself.

The belief that we all have a mystical light shining within us that must be unleashed for all to see, is, in my experience, a falsehood. Yes, each of us is a living, breathing creature with unique life experiences, preferences, hopes, and fears. But I have yet to meet a client or student who benefited from blinding everyone around them with her or his shining light.

When we insist on just-being-ourselves, we unknowingly seal ourselves within a barrier of selfishness that prevents others from connecting with us on a deeper, more meaningful level. In doing so, we cheat ourselves of the opportunities that inevitably come from healthy interpersonal connections.

In any relationship, be it personal or professional, we can only lay claim to 50% of it. This means that we must allow others to claim their fair share if we are to be fully nourished by our interactions with them. Feeling entitled to shine-your-light does not guarantee you anyone’s respect and admiration.

More than anything else, personal and professional greatness come from the exercise of self-restraint and self-control. I emphasize the word “exercise” since it takes sustained practice and continued self-improvement to build the mental and emotional muscles that are needed to become the best versions of ourselves.

I encourage my clients and students to not fall prey to the erroneous claim that we each have a “true self” that must be freed from the bondage of what we might otherwise call dignified, courteous, and classy behavior.

Although I believe that we all have a unique blend of energies and attributes of enormous value that can be channeled through our personal and professional relationships, each of us is a work-in-progress that matures more gracefully when giving more consideration to others than we do to ourselves.

John Collins is a Senior Leadership Consultant & Executive Coach at Critical Victories near Lansing, Michigan.  He is an active speaker, writer, coach, and consultant focusing on people, teams, and organizations seeking to thrive in high-pressure, high-consequence environments.  Learn more about John and Critical Victories at www.criticalvictories.com.