Monday, 18 March 2013

Just be yourself

Phoebe is about to meet the parents of her boyfriend, Mike, and like any woman in that situation, is freaking out. Monica reassures her "They're just gonna love you, just be yourself," to which Phoebe points out "They live on the Upper East side on Park Avenue." Rachel says "Oh yeah, she can't be herself."

The idea that you should "just be yourself" has good principles behind it. While literally it doesn't mean much - you are always yourself and there's no changing that - the saying is there to remind you not to act in a way that completely contradicts your character just to satisfy someone else's prejudices or demands, something that can make you feel fake and hollow. Or you might be about to meet someone and are preparing to put on a big cheesy smile, all smarm and charm in the attempt to win them over, when your friend advises you to drop all that and "just be yourself", because if you try too hard to act a certain way you'll probably just end up intimidating the other party and achieving the opposite effect.

So it's a good principle. But it didn't really work out for Phoebe in the Friends episode I referenced. Phoebe is an eccentric character, and Monica and Rachel are relatively used to her quirky personality, but when they hear that the people she's going to meet are from a very upper-class part of town, they realise that "just being herself" isn't going to benefit her at all. Mike's parents have certain expectations about the way people act, and once they get to someone that probably doesn't matter so much, but first impressions do matter. The comedy in the episode comes from Phoebe trying desperately to strike a balance between being herself (playfully punching Mike's father, who just had surgery, in the stomach,) and being a woman of high class who Mike's parents would respect (which obviously goes to shit.) And there is a middle ground - it's just funny when people can't work it out - there's a degree to which you should "be yourself" when meeting new people for the first time.

Between people you know, this really isn't much of a problem. If your natural inclination is to go around slicing people's limbs off with a rusty battleaxe, that's probably a part of your personality you should repress, but otherwise, if your friends are used to your personality, and you're not generally an asshole, then you shouldn't worry about changing who you are. But if you're going for a job interview, or on a first date, or just meeting someone new in general, you can't "just be yourself" straight away. If you're the type who just gets so enthusiastic about meeting new people that you shake uncontrollably and jump up and down on your chair, that's something you should probably work on when you're applying for a job. And if you're the type who likes to intimately hug people, you should at least get to know the person you're taking out to dinner before you climb on their lap and stroke their face.

Even here, writing blog posts, I think there's a degree of control you have to exercise. Though as you probably know I don't update my blog much any more, when I do I aim to write a post that people can read and enjoy - whether or not I do is another matter. If I just spout random crap off the top of my head, it's not worth reading. There are many aspects of my personality, too, that I try not to translate onto a blog post because I don't think it would make sense or be appropriate.

In an earlier episode of Friends, Monica gives the same advice to Chandler when he sees an attractive woman that he wants to talk to. "Just be yourself... but not too much!" In general, it's a fair comment. People respond well when they can see that you're being genuine and not trying too hard or putting on a show. But the addendum on Monica's advice is telling: sometimes, if you're not used to someone with a certain type of personality, they can be a little intimidating and that's something you generally want to try and avoid. I know I can sometimes be a lot to take in when someone meets me for the first time: I do try my best not to scare people off, though!

At the end of the day, there's not much of a "should" to it. We are always ourselves. It's just about the aspects of our personality we let other people see... and until you get to know someone better, the phrase really should be: "Just be yourself, but not too much."

~Love Leonidas

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