How Do You Feel When You're Told to "Just Be Yourself"?

swift quote

A Medium post by David Heinemeier Hansson yesterday got me thinking about this question. Hansson (who goes by DHH) is best known for his creation of Ruby on Rails (web framework) and Basecamp (company and software tool), and I really respect his thinking. I loved his book Rework. He's often insightful on many topics.

Not this one, though. To give him credit, he probably dashed off this post, which has a simple premise:

He then goes on to talk about the power of envy for transformation.

I want to share my reasons for disagreeing with DHH because I think they're important for people like us (with anxiety). At the time of writing this, DHH's post had nearly 900 recommends on Medium. A whole lot of people agree with him. 

Writing my post helped me articulate why I don't, and it's made me feel good about the role of inspiration (as opposed to envy) in our lives. Maybe it will help you too?

I wrote:

I’ve thought about this a lot. Why does the invocation “just be yourself” sound insistent to the point of threatening to me?

I think it’s because: If someone’s not already being themselves, it might be because they’re scared or anxious. It might be that they don’t know who their “self” is at that moment.

Do you see a lot of people around you complacently in love with who they are right now? Do you think that the “just be yourself” motto is truly in danger of making people overly satisfied with their lives?

I’d argue that in both “just be yourself” and in “fake it til you make it” (which is another form of taking envy-based performance to its logical conclusion) social normative pressure suppresses positive growth.

What’s the solution then? Inspiration. Inspiration is growth-oriented.

It incorporates both learning to trust yourself and being inspired by the people around you, online and off. This is what leads to growth.

Take risks and share your new work. Publish a piece of writing or reveal a new project you’ve been designing or coding.

Feel good about these risks because your inspiration is your safety net.

my inspiration

my inspiration