Why "Be Yourself" Is Bad Advice, According to Psychology

Updated 05/06/19
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We are in the midst of a so-called "age of authenticity" in which the only prerequisite for a happy, fulfilling life is to simply be yourself. At a job interview, on a first date, or in the midst of virtually any other nerve-racking situation, we're told to sit back, relax, and let our true colors shine. As The New York Times' Adam Grant puts it in his this op-ed, "We want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, [and] vote for an authentic president."

But what happens when your authentic self simply isn't good enough? What if, for example, you're interviewing for a job you really want but are slightly underqualified for? Grant, a professor of psychology and star of the wildly popular TED Talk "The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers," argues that people should always strive for sincerity over authenticity, claiming that the latter breeds complacency. For example, he shares, "As an introvert, I started my career terrified of public speaking, so my authentic self wouldn't have been giving a TED Talk in the first place," he writes.

"I spent the next decade learning to do what Dr. Little, the psychologist, calls 'acting out of character.' I decided to be the person I claimed to be, one who is comfortable in the spotlight."

Grant credits his career success to his willingness to venture outside of his comfort zone, abandon the idea of a "fixed self," and ultimately make his inner self match his ideal outer self, instead of the other way around. When climbing the corporate ladder or pursuing a creative passion, those who sidestep authenticity for ambition and sincerity may reap the benefits. In other words, fake it till you make it.

What is your ideal "outer self"? Let us know, and then set new goals in the gorgeous notebooks below.

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Do you agree with this advice?

This post was originally published on June 18, 2016. Updated by Sacha Strebe. 

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