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“Be yourself!” This is a common piece of advice, often given before an interview or a date or some other occasion when we need to impress. Sounds like a strange piece of advice, though. How could you not be yourself?


Strange as it seems, we have been conditioned all our lives to behave according to other people’s expectations, to dance to their tune, to let them pull our strings (在幕后操纵). The truth is that most of us—unless we have really thought about it and made an effort to change—are puppets, controlled by the world around us. We crave (渴望) approval. We need to fit in. In many ways, this is just a characteristic of being human—we are social animals and need to fit into the group to survive. But this natural and healthy tendency has taken over our lives to such an extent that we are often paralyzed (使瘫痪) by a fear of the outside world and obsessed by how others see us.


But what would things look life if you could really “be yourself”?


Don’t give away your power

“The King is angry. See, he gnaws his lip.”——Shakespeare, Richard III


It is impossible to really be yourself when you are worried about how other people perceive you. We all care (at least a little bit) what other people think—we have been raised to believe that the approval of others is important. And in some ways it is—other people do have power over us. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter as much as you think; usually it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes you’ll be flavor (香味) of the month; other times you might be public enemy number one. But you cannot control what other people think of you, so why even try?


Let them think what they will. To give the opinions and thoughts of others so much importance is to make your own life a misery. When you stop giving your power away to other people like this, your life will be so much lighter and easier.


Live with integrity (诚实)

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity (口是心非). Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel (低声下气) before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune.”——Boris Pasternak



Living with integrity means being an open, honest person. It means saying what you think, not in an arrogant, conceited way, which is usually a sign of an inferiority complex (自卑感), but because you shouldn’t hide what you believe. If you are not true to yourself—if you are dishonest, if you hide part of yourself, either as a defense mechanism or to get a promotion or make money, you will create what I have heard called an “inner darkness”, and this will haunt (困扰) you.


You might be able to succeed in some senses by being dishonest and duplicitous, but in the end you will be unable to face yourself, and if you cannot look in the mirror with a clear conscience, how can you be yourself?


Don’t take yourself so seriously

“When you can laugh at yourself, you are free.”——Ted Loder



Will the world stop turning if you screw up (把事情弄糟)? Believe it or not, the world got along fine without you for millions of years, and will do so long after you’re gone. So keep things in perspective. Will any of this matter in a year, ten year, 100 years? In many ways, the world is a ridiculous place, full of crazy things that make no sense at all. You can’t make sense of it all however hard you try. It is what it is, and so are you, with all your contradictions and faults and failings. Remember the old saying: ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you.’ So relax, lighten up; don’t get things out of proportion.



Don’t worry: accept things as they are

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”——Buddha


We have a tendency to think we are in control. But the truth is that there are surprisingly few things we can influence directly. I read somewhere recently that life is no about avoiding the storm but about learning to dance in the rain, and I think this is a wonderful truth. We spend so much time trying to change our world, but in reality we can only change ourselves. If the rain is coming, it will come; if the sun is setting, it will set. Accept these many, many things which are outside our control and, whatever comes along, learn not only to live with it, but to embrace it, to love it—to live any other way is madness.


Do what you love

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”——Eleanor Roosevelt



Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t let other people tell you what to do and how to live. In the end, you are responsible for your experience of life, and if you don’t follow your dreams, you only have yourself to blame.“You’re a long time dead” as the saying goes, so don’t waste time with worry or regret. Don’t be a puppet—don’t let the world around you pull your strings. You cannot control it, so don’t let it control you either. If you are true to yourself and live with integrity, honesty and without fear, then you will, perhaps, begin to see the answer to that most perplexing of questions: “Who am I?”