“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else's life.” - Steve Jobs
“Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.” - Beyoncé
The list of inspirational quotes goes on and on with the same underlying message: be yourself. It’s the new anthem of the world. You hear celebrities and business leaders saying those words in some form or another. I think they have hit on something very important.
We are all different with different personalities, different backgrounds and situations. And to be the best we can be, God does not want us all to be templates of some saint. As much as we might want to model our lives after those of the saints, not all of us are a Francis of Assisi or a Therese of Lisieux.
Saint biographies are great sources of inspiration but often they focus too much on what the saints did and not on why the saints did the things they did. That’s why my favorite saint biography is The Family that Overtook Christ. In it, Fr. Raymond explores not only the what but the why—the why that inspired them as individuals, and how it fit in with their individual personalities and backgrounds.
It seems simple enough. Just be myself and I'll be successful. But how do I do that? It’s not a clear path of action like “Do 100 push ups daily” or “Donate $100 to charity”. Isn't being yourself just doing whatever you feel like? If someone feels like following the crowd, isn't that being true to himself since that is what he wants to do?
I think being yourself comes down to authenticity.
But here’s the thing: no one can tell you how to be authentic. Just by asking how to be authentic seems to miss the point completely and warrant an inauthentic answer. I can’t tell you how to be authentic. But what I can try to give you is a general sense of what makes someone so.
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek outlines something he likes to call “The Golden Circle”. It’s the idea that all great corporations and leaders that have the ability to command loyalty and inspire people, follow a certain pattern: they start with why. Instead of trying to sell what they do, they sell why they do it.
One of his prominent examples he uses in his book is Martin Luther King Jr.. When Martin Luther King gave his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he did not firstly say what he planned to do. He did not get up and say, “I have a plan”. He said “I have a dream”. He clearly expressed his purpose and the people were inspired and willing to follow him. People could see his belief, his Why, his authenticity.
In contrast, many companies and leaders are so focused on what they do—their products—rather than why they do it and thus they lack authenticity. They exist to capitalize on opportunity. They rely on manipulations like deals and promotions to move their products. While these marketing schemes may work in the short term, the companies never gain a loyal following because of their inauthenticity.
Customers of a company like Apple, which has a clear sense of their Why—to challenge the status quo and empower the individual—are willing to pay a premium for their products even if there may be cheaper alternatives on the market. The customers buy into the company’s Why and are loyal to that belief. Apple is not just a tech company; it’s a lifestyle company. It embodies the beliefs and lifestyle choices of its customers.
So you want to be yourself? The first thing you have to start with is your Why, your purpose. Why do you do the things you do? Why are you who you are? In order to be yourself, you must have a purpose based on your beliefs and in accordance with your actions. When your actions align with your identity and your purpose, you will be yourself. You will be authentic.
God already told us our Why: to know, love, and serve Him. If all Catholics have the same Why, how can there be any individuality? Won’t we all share some collective identity? In a sense we do share a collective identity in the Mystical Body of Christ, and we share a purpose but that purpose is a very broad one. I think that for each one of us we can take that broad purpose and personalize it.
Go find your Why! Don’t use another person’s reason for knowing, loving, and serving God. Find your own. Only then will it be something that you will want to live up to and that you will be motivated enough to strive for. Perhaps it is the idea of friendship, of fatherhood, of your own helplessness, or of charity. Or maybe it is spreading the Faith, or consoling God or being a role model to others. It does not need to be anything sophisticated or philosophical; it just needs to be you. It could be anything as long as it fits under the umbrella of knowing, loving, and serving God.
Finding your Why is the easy part, and even knowing how to live up to it can be easy. The difficulty is making your actions align with that Why and never losing sight of it. This takes consistent effort and patience, but if the conviction of your Why is strong enough, everything you do will be authentic. You will be yourself, who you are truly meant to be.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde.