“Being yourself” is overrated and it is terrible advice to give a young person. Much education and virtually all professional training is specifically designed to teach you to be different – and better. Most success in life depends on your ability to play the proper roles. This is as it should be.
On the left is me when I was 19 and knew everything. I actually had hair back then.
People left to just be themselves will often behave with slothful indifference, or worse. Doing the right thing is hard work that requires significant discipline and preparation. Those doing the wrong things often rationalize away their failings, since the wrong thing usually results from the sin of omission rather than commission. People neglect preparation or lack reasonable foresight and then find themselves in an untenable position. Portraying themselves as victims, they plaintively ask, “What else could I do?” as circumstances “force” them into some questionable actions.
Random chance – luck – is an important factor in any result, but the chronically unlucky are probably making poor choices, often by what they are choosing NOT to do, as I discuss above.
Below is a picture of my father (the guy w/o the hat) back in the summer of 1941, when he was 19 and knew everything. Even from our distant time, we can feel the joy of care free youth. The Great Depression was ending. Young men could find jobs. Later that year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. By the next summer, my father was in Europe at the request of his Uncle Sam.
I am a natural procrastinator. I have known that since I was a kid. I compensate for this because I am a quick study with a significant talent to “think on my feet” or “wing it.” I don’t say this to boast, but rather to point out the mixed blessing. These skills allow me to get away with insufficient preparation and even when I pull off a success, it may not be the best I could do. Because I recognize the problem, I can fight against the tendency, but I will forever struggle against the tendency to “be myself.”
We are our own first creation. We demonstrate who we are by what we aspire to be, by the choices we make and by the roles we choose. My “self” is defined by my family, my forests, my diplomacy career and various long term habits such as reading and running. I doubt anybody would have predicted this for me when I was born. The things are do now are not the default option; I am not being my “natural” self, but I am certainly being “me” – the me I have chosen, the one I want to be, not the one I was stuck with. Sure glad I didn’t try too hard to be myself when I was younger.
My advice to the kids is don’t just be yourself; be better. It will be more satisfying.