Should You “Be Yourself”? (What Does That Even MEAN?)

I sometimes get this urge to strangle people whose go-to advice is “Just be yourself”.

  • Should I just be myself even if that puts people off?
  • Should I be honest all the time, even if that makes people upset?
  • What if I become a different person around different people? Which “me” is the right one?

So, where do I find the balance between being “within the norm” and “being myself”?

When I read books on social success, I got the feeling that I was being molded into some generic person just to fit in. Luckily, there’s a better way than having to “put on a mask” and abandon your integrity.

What people really mean when they say “be yourself” is that you should act as natural as you are around close friends.

That’s good advice (even if it can be hard to follow).

The “self” changes all the time. And changing is a natural thing. You let different parts of your personality shine through in different situations. You act differently when you’re with your grandma than your friends, and that’s how it should be. Part of the beauty of being human is that we aren’t 1-dimensional creatures who can only be one thing.

Bringing forth different parts of our personality based on who we’re with is called building rapport. It’s something we all do without even thinking about it. Being able to change is something good – as long as you don’t change into someone you don’t WANT to be.

I have a friend who has different beliefs than most

He never shoves what he thinks in anyone’s face, and he never hides it if someone asks. He has no need to argue with anyone about it, and he has no problem discussing it if someone wants to. He’s never been defensive about it, and he never judged anyone for believing something else.

But how can my friend “get away” with being who he wants to be when others can’t?

Because he has all the traits of a likable person:

  1. He’s confident.
  2. He’s warm towards people
  3. He’s a good listener.
  4. He shows different qualities of himself depending on the moment; calm, excited or serious. In other words, he’s good at building rapport.

These four traits are what actually make someone likable.

People who haven’t grown these skills often try the “bad” road to feel liked instead – changing what they DON’T want to change. Their beliefs, their values, parts of their personality they cherish. Ironically, that makes them look insecure, and therefore LESS likable.

Another friend of mine felt like she had to be this overly positive and happy person for people to like her. She later realized that she didn’t need to be that 1-dimensional. It was OK to be a calm, low energy person when that fit the situation. When she started to meet people’s social energy level instead of trying to top it, socializing gave her energy instead of taking it.

4 steps to combine “being genuine” with “being likable”

  1. Showing different sides of your personality is good as long as you’re comfortable with who you become
  2. Don’t hide – and don’t flaunt – your opinions and beliefs
  3. Be accepting of others opinions and beliefs
  4. A person who is confident, warm, a good listener, and builds rapport, is likable without having to put on a mask

P.S. As I’ve become more socially skilled, I’ve been able to get away with being who I want to be.

I don’t have to hide that I’m a rather weird guy who enjoys doing nerdy stuff. My friends like me and respect me for it. I can be comfortable doing things I couldn’t before.

Here’s a gingerbread castle I built


Here’s my wrecking ball crane (it gets weirder)

Here’s my hamster Wilma

Here’s a minimalist hamster skyscraper I built her

Minimalist Hamster Skyscraper

Well, you get the point.

To me, being socially skilled isn’t about trying to be like everyone else. It’s about getting away with being who you want to be.

P.P.S. We all got unique qualities or interests that are sometimes hard to share without seeming kind of weird.

Tell me about one of those qualities you’ve got that you’d never want to change about yourself. Write about it in a comment below. I read everything! 🙂

David Morin is the founder of SocialSelf. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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  1. Thank you for your article. I will try to use some of the methods you mentioned, and some I already do. I am proud of my interests and beliefs, and I will never change or compromise them to gain approval. Most of my traits I wouldn’t call weird, even if unusual, like composing my own music. However there is a weird trait I have that I wouldn’t change. In college, I majored in Applied Health, so I have a great fascination of the human body. In my classes, I would be the only one who would get all excited and cheer when learning about some structures of the body, like the sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck. I looked like an idiot, but I would just laugh over the other students’ reactions. I enjoy being easily amused and appreciating things that other people don’t notice.

    It’s certain aspects of my personality that I feel insecure about, though, and I have great social anxiety because of them. Along with some others who have commented, I get easily drained being in any situation where I’m around people. It has become part of my nature to put on an act, usually a more happy and light-hearted act to hide my more normal depressed or void-of-emotion feeling. I’m a deep person, so making small talk is more difficult to do, which means trying to do the initial action of making a friend is close to impossible. And I seem to be in the background in many of the friendships I have. How do I actually become more confident without putting on the confidence act?

    • Small talk is hard for me too.

      I observe situations, preferring to listen quietly until I am genuinely curious about one person. When that happens, I let out the parts of my personality that I like: the investigative journalist and the psychologist.

      I skip right over the weather/job talk and ask something like, “Let’s say you’re the protagonist in the movie that is your life. What’s a challenge you’ve dealt with lately?”

      If I feel like starting off lighter, I ask things like, “Ocean or lake?” “Rollercoaster or Ferris wheel?”

      While listening to my new acquaintance, I often say things like, “That’s interesting. So what you’re saying is [summarize/paraphrase].” Then I ask a related question that probes deeper.

      Embracing this aspect of my personality helps

      1. me feel more comfortable since I don’t have to talk about myself at first;

      2. me be more confident because I’m letting myself think and act in a way that comes naturally to me;

      and 3. seems to put the other person at ease because there’s structure to our more meaningful conversation.

      I suspect few actually enjoy small talk. 😉

      Be well, Rachel!

  2. I really dislike waste and littering. I’m also a pescatarian. When I get a chance, I try to encourage people to not waste, pick up litter and think twice about eating meat. I notice when I do it in a very congenial way, it’s pretty powerful. I do it more and more now and feel like I’m really making a difference. Thank you for all of your wonderful advice. It’s so helpful and appreciated!

  3. I put a lot of effort in finding the answers to any question that can help me grow, because I have learned that is the way to fix any problem I have.
    This makes me spend a lot of time in my head and on searching information, plus changing habits. Which makes me enjoy my own company a lot and which has gotten me out of a very dark place. But this means my interests and lifestyle don’t match many people and I therefore find the average Joe boring and draining. Only weird/intense/deep people catch and keep my attention. Yet I’ll still be drained after an interesting conversation, but it will be worth it. When I come home from a day with many social interactions I will feel freezing inside my bones, my body will be shaking and have sounds spinning in my ears.
    I am an intense person and having to tone my person down when I am social is also draining, but I don’t want to change being this intense, weird, deep person because it has saved me and it makes the life inside me so fulfilling.
    Work wise I put on another hat and there I am great at handling people, professionally. I work with people and I am good at it. But I can’t have colleagues. For some reason chit-chat and customer service has two different effects on me. With too much chit-chat I get so filled up, that I stress so much that I start feeling a frustration that can lead to a very bad mood. I can’t work full time because it makes me sick. When I finish work, I am completely drained and can’t socialise. I therefor only have few friends,they like me as I am, even though they all agree that I am mouthful. But I have traits that people appriciate as being a good listener, open minded, understanding, caring, spontaneous and a bit of a rebel. So the point is, I like me for who I am, I just wish I didn’t get so drained by people and conversations, plus I wish it didn’t make me feel so uncomfortable to feel so different and then awkward from the average Joe. To me the average Joes seem normal and I’m from another planet. Which is what I have always been told.

  4. I feel so uncomfortable around people, I can’t be normal or random person can you help me with that? I only feel comfortable around my family

  5. I have a girlfriend who I met a little over a month ago and we’ve hit it off so good, I’m kinda the quiet person when I’m around her I guess more of the shy type, I feel comfortable around her but at times I find myself running out of things to talk about and she gets annoyed that I don’t talk much, I’m afraid of losing her because of being the quiet type I want to change who I am but I don’t know how, can you help.

    • For a long time, as a younger less insightful person, I put a “label” on myself as that shy, weird, outcast that craved attention but never got it. So I tried to put this fake outgoing mask on so I could be the center of attention. This failed miserably, so much so that I lost my sense of self. It took years off tribulation and straight social misery to finally realize that the more I “tried” the less I “became”.
      This is where it gets important, because it’s hard. I said to myself stop trying… period, end of story. It’s a lot harder than you might think because you see the social success of the people around you and you think to yourself why am I not like them. But something miraculous happens, your true inner self starts to pop through and it starts manifesting in your mind. This “shy person” you thought you were disappears, but only to you. On the outside people still see you as shy but on the inside things change, and that is what really matters. Thoughts become easier, conversation becomes more meaningful and people feel this unconsciously.
      When you hit it off good that was you with no label, not trying, and letting yourself go. You want to change, forget about it. Say to yourself, people will naturally come to me because I don’t try. Remember you do not want to change, change will happen naturally. Then you will become the person you never thought you could be. After that you will never strive to change again.
      I relate to you very much so I am sorry to drone on. If I can make one person happier in life I have succeeded. Hope I helped.

  6. Thank you you’ve inspired me you know I always think I need to be like everyone else but I don’t I’m me you give great advice thanks ?

  7. Hi David,

    First of all, I enjoy your emails and your compassion. The trait that j would not change about my self is my ability to be transparent ( Humble). Some appreciate other try to create something that isn’t there. I’m learning how to recognize the energy I receive from those people, and either deal from a distance or not deal with them at all. Keep up the motivation and the convo.

    Kennisha AKA Bizzi

  8. I can identify more types of birds than types of shoes. ? That makes me a bit different than my peers but honestly I’m so much happier with my own interests than i would be by trying to put on other people’s!

    • Not yet, but she says she got a driver’s license now so I guess we’ll see how it goes. Don’t know if I should be worried?

  9. Hi David, I love all things Spanish – Spanish language has been by hobby since I was 12, and I am a big fan of Latin music. These days I live and work in The Netherlands, but I am from the UK. It may sound odd, but people treated me like I was strange for that interest back home. People seemed to think I was strange for liking Spanish music…

    • I think it’s more strange to only like music from your own nationality. Your passion for Latin music sounds cool and interesting.

  10. LOVE that skyscraper, lol!

    You asked what qualities I’d never change. That would probably be my weird sense of humor, if nobody can appreciate it I’d rather be without friends. But I’m pretty sure there are more people than me who laugh at weird stuff haha

  11. I’d never get rid of my interest for bad horror movies. I just love everything about it 😀 Thank you for a very interesting article!

  12. Like you I enjoy building things for instance I made a gingerbread Eiffel tower this christmas, but a more unusual thing I do is wood burning. I use a magnifying glass to magnify the rays of the sun and burn patterns into wood, its taken a lot of practice but I am now really good at it and I would never give it up.


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