The problem with the expression “Be yourself”

The problem with the expression “Be yourself” is that when it truly comes down to it, many people don’t know who they are.

I actually much prefer Joss Whedon‘s version better…

Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck.

It’s funny because it’s true. Some people just kind of suck at times, don’t they?

But the fact is, we all do — but we rarely recognize the instances in which we “suck” — or inconvenience others — because we tend judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.

Think of it this way, when we cut someone off by accident while driving, we recognize for what it was, an honest mistake.

We may even mentally apologize to the other driver. And 5 minutes later we’ve forgotten about it.

So, in our minds, we’re definitely not the kind of person that cuts people off while driving.

But from the other driver’s perspective, we are. And we suck.

It’s just a matter of perspective.

Even at times when we know we’re being rude by tailgating or running a red light because we’re in a hurry, we forgive ourselves because we feel justified for doing it. And because of that, we often forget our actions (driving aggressively) and only think or our intentions (not being late).

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” – George Carlin

I’m only using driving as an example because it’s easy to relate to. This issue of perspective goes far beyond driving and into every aspect of our lives.

The key is being open-minded and empathetic enough to see it.

Another problem with the expression “be yourself” is that many people have never truly taken the time to question who they really are and how they know what they know.

Basically, they haven’t asked themselves, “What kind of person am I really and why am I like this?”

When people really dig deep, they come to realize that they’ve been influenced by things that go far beyond themselves. That they haven’t always been in complete control of what they’ve learned or how they were “trained” to be.

As children we often just accept things as we are told without truly questioning how we truly feel about these things.

And as adults, we often justify our actions based on a, “well everyone else is doing it and that’s just the way it is” mentality.

“My friends are into this, so it must be cool.”
“My family has always done things this way, so I will teach my family to do it this way, too.”
“The advertisements are great and I see them everywhere, the product must be good.”
“This doesn’t seem right, but it seems like it’s generally accepted by everyone, so it must be ok.”

We often spend so much of our lives living under the influence of our friends, family, advertising, and societal pressures, that we just assume that our opinions — or our desires — are our own.

This can be compounded by the fact that, not only do we grow accustomed to acting a certain way, all of those that know us learn to expect a certain set of behaviors from us as well.

So in order to maintain expectations, we maintain our behavior — even at times when our internal desire is to act otherwise. We have learned from previous experience that to deviate from our expected behavior can lead us to disappoint those who know us — or at least uncomfortably surprise them.

So rather than run the risk of rocking boats, we often succumb to the pressures of staying within our “behavior box” — which is to say, the boundaries of what is considered our “normal behavior” or our respective roles within family and friendships.

While some people will eventually exert their independence over time and break the bounds of their behavior box, others remain within this box out of fear of some form of rejection by friends or family. Because even though these behaviors no longer feel genuine, they feel more comfortable than what we fear might happen if we deviate from the status quo.

This is often illustrated when one plays a specific role or adopts a specific set of behaviors within a family (or circle of friends) and then adopts another more genuine set of behaviors elsewhere.

To act in this fashion, being real in one set of circumstances and false in another, is to sacrifice our true selves — and our integrity — and it can affect everything in our lives, from the types of jobs we hold, to what we buy with our money, to the type of people we have relationships with, and where we go on vacation.

These are not trivial things as they often build upon each other — until eventually, one finds themselves living a lifestyle that no longer fits. And while this lifestyle may conform to the expectations of others — and even appear to thrive on the surface (ie. “the perfect career” or “the perfect marriage”) — it can lead to a sense of unhappiness and discontent because the life being lived isn’t in harmony with one’s genuine desires.

This is why it’s important to know and “To thine own self be true.” (Shakespeare)

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

While the saying, “The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” (Thomas Szasz) is true, unless you’re conscious of — and take an active positive role in — your own development, the person you reflexively think you are may not be the true you. This is especially the case when your own behavior and actions betray you, such as at times when when you’re not feeling well or you act purely out of reflex.

“Men best show their character in trifles, where they are not on their guard. It is in the simplest habits, that we often see the boundless egotism which pays no regard to the feelings of others and denies nothing to itself.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

While we may not like every aspect of who we are at all times, we are always responsible for how we act, regardless of how we feel. And it is especially those aspects of ourselves that we don’t like that we should work on.

This can include such things as raising one’s voice in an argument (instead of improving one’s argument), snapping at people when one is not feeling well, or escalating a situation when one knows it is exactly the opposite of what they want.

Because they are so engrained, working on these less-than-desirable qualities of character often isn’t a simply a matter of making a decision sticking with it. But if one persistently strives for consistency — instead of perfection — one can, over time, alter any of their behaviors to those they consider more representative of the person they want to be.

This can be a process for a number of reasons. In some cases, we may have conformed to our behavior box — and the expectations of others — for so long, that we need to experiment with the freedom of acting from true self desire in order to find the newer behaviors that feel right. This can mean taking responsibility for one’s self in a way that no longer seeks the approval or acceptance of others.

Or in the case of old undesirable habits, it can require many tries before new, more desirable habits replace reflexive responses.

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” — Deepak Chopra

This whole process of forging one’s character can require a sort of reinvention of one’s self — and this reinvention can affect everything in one’s life. But if living true to one’s self and with integrity is one of the goals — and true happiness, comfort, and contentment with one’s authentic self is another, then the process of reinvention is a worthwhile one.

“As we allow the process of reinvention we often have to leave jobs, locations, people and things behind.” — Bethany Eaton (When your life no longer fits – reinvent!)

It is not until we take the time to question who we are, what we know, and how we know what we know that we begin to truly find ourselves. And it isn’t until we’ve deliberately distinguished ourselves from our influences that our genuine self is revealed.

And if you’re truly living life to the fullest, doesn’t that not only encompass continuously and boldly reaching out for newer, richer experiences, but also taking an active role in how those experiences alter you as a result of having them?

Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” — Barbara De Angelis

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” — Henry David Thoreau

Unless you know who you are, you will always be vulnerable to what people say.” — Dr. Phil

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” – John Dewey

“Not till we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau

The problem with the expression “Be yourself”

You don’t have to wait for acceptance or permission to do great things


If one is to fulfill their potential in life, it’s important to realize that nearly all new and original ideas, products, and causes face rejection, criticism, and even ridicule before they’re accepted.

In short, even the best, brightest, and most beneficial ideas, products, and causes have critics.

You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Tease

A study by Cornell University even confirms this. Researchers concluded that that people are actually biased against creative ideas (Why great ideas get rejected (99u article) — based on the Cornell Study : PDF).

Nearly every great accomplishment in life requires a person to act boldly and take action on the ideas that one believes in order to not yield the power of one’s potential to the fear of rejection.

When acting on your creative ideas, always keep in mind that you’re not doing what you’re doing for the critics. And regardless of how good your idea is, there will nearly always be someone in the world who hates it.

Don’t hesitate to do something simply because you are afraid of how it will be received.  Just do it. Don’t worry if everyone doesn’t like it — or even understand it at first.

You don’t have to wait for acceptance or permission to do great things.

If you truly want to make a positive difference in the world, start now — and correct your course as you go.


“If I care to listen to every criticism, let alone act on them, then this shop may as well be closed for all other businesses. I have learned to do my best, and if the end result is good then I do not care for any criticism, but if the end result is not good, then even the praise of ten angels would not make the difference.” – Abraham Lincoln


“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle


“They disparage one who remains silent, they disparage one who talks a lot, they disparage one who talks in moderation.” — Buddha quoting a saying (from Dhammapada)




You don't have to wait for acceptance or permission to do great things

The problem with problems.

The problem with problems:


Easy to find, easy to create, and easy to spread.

The world is full of problems. So why be the person that feels the need to highlight them wherever you go? There is no glory in it. There’s no reward. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do, so why take it upon yourself to be that person?

When people want bad news, all they have to do is turn on the television. After all, there are stations devoted to it 24/7.

“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news… and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” — Peter McWilliams (reposted from: Day 184: A tough pill to swallow.)

“But I must point out the problems so they get fixed!”

If all you’re doing is pointing out problems — problems with the government, problems with the economy, problems with your job market, problems with customer service, problems with the environment, problems with [insert any number of countless problems here], are you really doing anything to effectively alleviate those problems? Or are you simply taking it upon yourself to point out problems and hoping that someone else fixes them?

Pointing out problems doesn’t fix problems. Solutions fix problems.

There is a difference between drawing attention to a cause that needs attention, and simply pointing out problems. Causes are solution-oriented, not problem-focused.

Read moreThe problem with problems.

The problem with problems.

Rejection is neither an indication of value or talent


Rejection is neither an indication of value or talent. Remember that. If you believe in what you have to offer, then don’t stop offering it simply because some of those you offer it to reject it. Many people are simply not very good at recognizing talent or value. It doesn’t mean you won’t eventually find an audience that will.

Consider JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s earnings from the sale of books, movies, and merchandise is estimated at over 1 BILLION dollars. The Harry Potter brand is valued at over 15 BILLION dollars. Rowling’s book releases shattered sales records, and yet…

When Rowling submitted her Harry Potter manuscript to the first twelve publishing houses, it was rejected by each (wikipedia).

I think millions upon millions of adoring fans are thankful she didn’t give up. I think she is, too.

Just something to think about the next time you face rejection.


Rejection is neither an indication of value or talent

There are many things in this world that you are not responsible for…

There are many things in this world that you are not responsible for (and have no control over). Your health, diet, education, attitude, inner peace, happiness, and how informed you are (are not among those things). Those are a reflection of choices you make every day.



[anonymous]: i would take health off this list. i understand that our choices can shape our health in some ways, but not in all ways. many people suffer from diseases they did nothing to cause or contribute to. otherwise, i’m with you!

Zero: I’m inclined to leave it, and here’s why:

No one chooses to get sick, but the vast majority of diseases are caused by diet (controllable), stress (controllable), willful association with things that are known to have adverse effects on health such as smoking, drinking, hazardous work environments, etc (all controllable).

Yes, there are always exceptions (and always exceptions to pretty much any quote or concise piece of advice, but then they wouldn’t be easily digestible). It is rare one can offer a simple bit of advice and have it apply to everyone and every situation without exceptions.

But for the vast majority of people who can read this post, this applies.

It does not apply so much to people who cannot read or live in a third world country. Or people who are incarcerated. Or people with mental issues or chemical imbalances or have suffered from severe trauma. Or children who are born into sickness or are afflicted by disease very early on in life. But then, I’m not speaking to those people and wouldn’t expect them to read this.

For what it’s worth, this is only meant to be somewhat encouraging and reinforcing to the people who do read what I write. “You’re right, I do have control over what I eat. I will eat better.” or “You’re right, I do have control over my fitness. I will exercise more.” or “You’re right, I do have control over my education. I will pick up a book or watch some educational videos and start learning about something that interests me.”

For those that I think it will be most useful to, are the ones I think it will probably piss them off to read it.

“I didn’t choose to get fat.” or “I can’t run because my knees hurt, so how do you expect me to exercise?” or “I’m not happy because my life sucks.”

I think much of the world would rather blame others for the state of their health or their lives than take personal responsibility for it.

It can be difficult making that switch — not everyone wants that kind of responsibility or to make that kind of effort.

But as one quote goes, “The truth with set you free. But first it will piss you off.”


There are many things in this world that you are not responsible for...

You are responsible

Your health.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

Your diet.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

Your education.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

How informed you are.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

Your attitude.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

Your inner peace.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

Your happiness.
Yes, you are responsible for it and there is something you can do about it.

This is not a complete list.
(And yes, I’m responsible for that).

The point is, these things come down to a choice. The choice to begin taking an active positive role in one’s well being.

I think it’s a worthwhile one.


You are responsible

When you truly want to get to know someone better

“What do you do?” is a dull question that often leads to a dull “I’m a [job title]” response.

No one is ever just a [job title].

When you TRULY want to get to know someone better, try:

  • “What’s your idea of a dream job?”
  • “What are you passionate about?”
  • “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
  • “What would you try if you knew you would not fail?”
  • “What sets your soul on fire?”
  • “What’s something you would love to do, but haven’t yet?” and “Why haven’t you?”

No is ever just a job title. - Zero Dean

When you truly want to get to know someone better

Tao of Zero: Positive Feedback Folders

Today we’re going to talk about positive feedback folders.

Have you ever hit a rough patch in life (personally or professionally) where you feel like nothing is going your way?

Perhaps you’ve hit a creative block, are dealing with some kind of rejection, or you’re just having a difficult time connecting with some of the things that are important to you.

And to make matters worse, perhaps you get a bit down on yourself and you start focusing on the negative. Maybe even asking yourself why you even bother.

This is where a positive feedback folder can help.

What is a positive feedback folder?

Read moreTao of Zero: Positive Feedback Folders

Tao of Zero: Positive Feedback Folders