The Difference Between ‘Be Yourself’ and ‘Be Your Best Self’

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Be true to yourself, but don’t run buck wild.

I can recall numerous instances of cartoons telling me that the best policy is always to “be yourself.” Be yourself, and people will like you. Be yourself, and you’ll find success. While it is important to be true to your core beliefs, being “yourself” isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to all of life’s problems.

In the first place, what exactly is “yourself?” Is it you when you’re completely alone, off the clock? Nobody can act 100% professional at all times, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. But if you were applying to a job, would you use your lounging, pajama pants-wearing, off the clock persona, or your nine-to-five, pants buckled and ready to work persona? We all wear different masks, metaphorically speaking, when interacting with different people. When you’re trying to make a professional impression, you need to exemplify your most relevant qualities.

For example, let’s say you’re skilled in, I dunno, copywriting and accounting, but you’re a little more proud of your skill in the former than the latter. If you apply to a copywriting position and accounting position, would you use the same cover letter for both? No, of course not. Even if your copywriting skill is one of your core abilities, the second job isn’t looking for a copywriter. You need to rework your introduction, put more emphasis on your accounting skills, maybe sprinkle in the copywriting stuff as a bonus. You’re not being disingenuous, you’re just redirecting the focus of your abilities.

Whether professionally or personally, there will be times when the ideals of a person or group don’t mesh with your own. In those cases, then it’s okay to be yourself and walk away. The whole reason people tell you to “be yourself” isn’t because it’s a magical ticket that’ll open every door. It’s because you should live in circumstances where you can be closest to the self you’re comfortable with.

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1 year ago