”Be yourself, no matter what they say” is the advice that Sting gives us in his elegant song Shape of My Heart. I agree. But how do we do that? How can we be ourselves? Deeper still, what does it mean to be ourselves? And how do I know who my-self is?
After all, whatever I am, there will always be me in it. Even if I consciously play a role or pretend to be someone else, all I ever really can be is a version of myself. No other self is available to me. I cannot change ‘selves’ as clothes. Identity theft is a horrible offence but it is only possible to act like someone else, not be someone else.
Yet, some ways of being, some roles, some paths of life feel more natural, come easier, bring more inner joy, appreciation, peace, inspire us to be better than we were yesterday. It is an observation that most of us have made at least once in our lives. What is the implication of this observation? What does it tell us?
I think it shows that the content of self is fluid to a meaningful extent, while the notion of self as such represents a continuity of one’s identity. In other words, you can be many different things, but you will still be you. So, is it possible, then, to not be yourself? Yes and no.
It is not possible to actually be someone else. But it is, unfortunately, possible to commit yourself to certain roles or paths of life that feel more like a personal kind of torture rather than authenticity. This is possible precisely due to the manifold ways in which we can manifest ourselves. So, it seems that our freedom of flexibility in expression can also be our trap.
I am not an actor but I feel that even the best performers can only play those roles where they can find at least some element of themselves. Something they can relate to. And since we are all humans, we have a lot in common. For instance, I suspect it would be a lot harder to play the role of a hungry wolf in a snowy forest than the role of the most horrible person you can imagine whom you swear you cannot understand.
Any other human being, even a seemingly incomprehensible one, is more accessible to us than a member of a different species. This indicates the diversity of self-manifestation available to us. Limited diversity, for sure, but more than enough for one lifetime. So it appears we can only be ourselves but we can live that self, act it out in many different ways.
Some of those ways will seem less natural at different times during our lives, some – more. This will change, however. Given that the content of our ‘selves’ is not entirely fixed, there cannot be just one proper life for everyone. What I considered a true expression of myself 15 years ago is something that feels forced and fake to me today. This will keep changing.
Yet, I remain myself and cannot be anyone else’s self. There is stability and continuity in the flow and change. So, in agreement with Sting’s advice, be yourself, no matter what they say – express your current state of self in the way that feels most authentic to you at this time of your life. Check in regularly with your inner authenticity compass. Things will keep changing.
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