In his autobiography, Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute from The Office) described the moment where he finally became okay being himself. A tall, gangly, pasty-white actor, Wilson had been a struggling actor for years. He kept trying to be a “classical actor,” beloved by artsy critics in New York.
But after acting in literally dozens of Shakespearian performances, he never felt okay being himself. As a result, his performances were almost always stilted, tense, and poor.
After over 10 years of paying his dues at run-down theaters with no audience, he was finally offered his first role as a Broadway star. The play was an obscure classical performance, and Wilson spent weeks beforehand “pretending” he was the classical actor he felt the audience wanted. He’d constantly wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, on the verge of a panic attack. The tension of trying to be someone else was killing him.
Still, he persisted. And when opening day came, he was a wreck. He completely bombed the performance.
But this fiasco finally taught him an important lessons: he’d never be happy being anyone other than himself.
After he embraced his nerdy, geeky, outlandish attitude, he became more calm, collected, and free to love himself. He wrote:
“I knew I ultimately needed to be myself, and screw whatever people thought of me. I felt this newfound commitment to freedom in my bones and it was a revelation. After this Broadway fiasco, I learned how to relax and breathe and play. I embraced the natural oddness that was me. I was never going to be some formal idea of a ‘classical actor-man,’ beloved by casting directors and The New York Times and rocking an ascot.”
Shortly after, his performances became far more nuanced, focused, and authentic. He came across a role for an obscure little show called The Office that was looking for a geeky, outlandish, odd guy.
And you know the rest.
Not Being Yourself Will Destroy You
For a long time, there was one group of people who I looked to for guidance on who I should be:
Specifically, hot girls.
I would have done anything for a hot girl who asked. My insecurity with myself left me terrified and alone, but when a pretty girl started giving me attention , I was like a dog when their owner holds up a treat. I’ll do anything! Please please please!
But eventually, I realized that not being myself would eventually destroy me.
One time in college, I fell in love way too quickly with a very broken (but very pretty) girl. I tried everything I could think to get her to like me. Nothing was working.
Then her sister (who also had lots of her own issues) gave me some very peculiar advice. “She only likes bad boys,” she revealed to me. “If you’re mean to her, she’ll start to like you.”
That was the most ass-backwards advice I’d ever heard.
But hey , my 110% effort of being the “nice guy” wasn’t working. So, I tried being mean.
It lasted a week. Honestly, every time I think back to my actions that week, I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe.
I wouldn’t text her back (even though I desperately wanted to). She’d tell me about her day, and I’d try to act cool and uninterested. “Yeah, whatever” I’d say nonchalantly. She wanted to hang out. “I’m busy” I’d respond cryptically.
AND IT WORKED.
She was super into it. She became so much more interested than ever before.
But I hated it. I hated being a jerk. And I knew that if that’s what this relationship took to survive, it wouldn’t work.
So I became the nice guy again, snd she strung me along more while she was sleeping with her ex. But that’s not the point.
Not being yourself will destroy you. You can only be happy and free if you’re you — and no one else.
Great Power Lies In Doing The Absurd
The reason most people act like someone else is because they’re afraid if they were their true selves, they’d be rejected.
I know the feeling. Back in college, I started reading The Hunger Games. I thought it was awesome.
I happened to tell a couple friends about it. When I revealed I was a fan, two of the girls gave each other the unmistakable wow-this-guy-is-one-of-those-guys looks. I felt so ashamed.
It’s hard to be yourself. To be honest about things you like and don’t like. But great power lies in doing the absurd.
Here’s something that will happen once you start being consistently yourself:
People will think you’re weird. They might even attack you for it.
You’ll get confused looks and raised eyebrows when you tell people what you do.
“Wait — you wake up at 5am every day? Even Saturdays? Why?”
“You don’t drink anymore? Why not?”
“You’re training for a triathlon? Why?”
“You’re putting 40% of your paychecks into savings? How do you survive?!”
Why? Why? Why are you so weird?
Authenticity, being as rare and difficult as it is, scares people when they see it live. It’s awesome. But it also elicits jealousy and resentment. In a way, your authenticity highlights their fakeness. Naysayers and their doubts say more about them than about you.
But great power lies in doing the absurd, especially if you think it’s crazy. Never forget, you have grown up in an environment that teaches mediocrity and falling in line. As best-selling author Grant Cardone once wrote: “Take into account that you have been educated with restrictions. Be aware of this so that you don’t underestimate the possibilities.”
If you want what you’ve never had, you’ll have to do stuff you’ve never done.
It’s the only way you’ll be happy.
Being Truly Yourself Will Make You Look Like You Have Superpowers
Authenticity attracts success, connection, and admiration.
So many people feel like they can’t be themselves. But when you decide to be brave and show the world who you truly are, the rewards are unavoidable.
I’m a personal growth writer. I write all day, every day about self-improvement, success, and discipline.
But a few weeks ago, I was not having a good day.
A huge online course I had created totally bombed. After months of planning and preparation, basically no one wanted to hear anything about it. I was crushed. Later that night, I injured my bad knee playing basketball. I was angry, frustrated, and frankly panicking that I had re-torn my ACL.
I could’ve wrote a fake, superficial email to my followers that week. Keep going! Hard work pays off! It gets better!
But I was vulnerable instead.
I wrote exactly how crappy I was feeling. How depressed, scared, and angry I was. How I felt like a fraud, feeling like a total failure as I wrote about success.
The next few days, hundreds of people responded to my email, thanking me for my authenticity and vulnerability. They told me how much my story connected with them. (Turns out a lot of people have had knee injuries!)
I learned an important lesson here:
People are hungry for authenticity. Give it to them and they’ll love you.
In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson wrote: “Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others.”
He went on:
“The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships.”
Choose authenticity and vulnerability about your insecurities.
You’ll never be happy acting like someone else. The world only has one of you — the most unique and powerful gift you can give to the world is simply being you.
Being vulnerable and authentic is rare. It’s scary. What if people reject you? What if they make fun of you?
Those are all questions that run through my mind all the time. I write about very personal stuff — my history of addiction, therapy, family, my marriage, my embarrassing stories where I totally screwed up.
But these are always my most successful articles. People always email me after reading them saying how much they related, how grateful they were to be able to say, “Wow, he does that too!”
Don’t worry about being anybody else, or pleasing anybody else.
Just be yourself.