To be yourself, or not to be yourself. Which is more helpful in helping you succeed, both professionally and personally?

Why you can never truly be yourself, and why that’s good for you [and business]

Wait, don’t answer. What if I told you that nobody (including yourself), can even see the real you? No, I’m serious, it’s true. Because you can never truly be yourself. And somehow, that is a good thing. What? OK let me explain a little what I mean.

How many times have you heard someone say “just be yourself”? It’s usually the kind of obvious advice you receive from someone who, in effect, has run out of ideas. You may think that you are in fact, being yourself, every day.

But no, it’s a lie. How? Because we can’t always say what we’re thinking. By proxy we act differently around different people. For many reasons. There are many of “us”, and “we” are constantly evolving and shape-shifting. True self is, by all respects, a myth. A tall tale. The stuff of bedtime stories even.

This time last year, a guest blogger and acquaintance who I have a huge amount of respect for, Maryam Rezaei, a Co-Founder of, wrote an intriguing piece about how to be your authentic self. The moral of the story, which you can read here, is basically that you need to trust your instinct. She argues this is where your authentic self lies.

And while in many ways it is a correct sentiment, for me it still does not nail down true self. It’s a part of you, yes. But your instinct can be different depending on the circumstances. More to the point, it can easily be ignored because you desire a different outcome which you feel is more “you”. So I suppose I’m challenging what Maryam said a little.

Who are you anyway?

Now I have not had some kind of epiphany. This is not a new idea. It all comes down to the fact that we are all, indisputably, Uno, Nessuno e Centomila (One, None and a Hundred Thousand). Yes, I finally read Luigi Pirandello’s incredible novel, and it proved to awaken many home truths.

For anyone who has not read it, I highly recommend you do. In a nutshell, the central character Vitangelo Moscarda discovers by way of a completely irrelevant question that his wife poses to him that everyone he knows, everyone he has ever met, has constructed a Vitangelo persona in their own imagination and that none of these personas corresponds to the image of Vitangelo that he himself has constructed and believes himself to be. And the adventure begins.

Deep down in your heart you acknowledge that you act differently around different people. Sometimes to create a certain impression, sometimes to get a promotion, sometimes to get what you want, and sometimes just to seem that you know what you are doing. Or to hide a dark secret. We all have those.

But even though you act different you are still confident in your consciousness that you are still you, each time that you bring out your various “roles”. Wrong. You are not. But, and this is the good news, it doesn’t matter. Your identity is not a frog you can dissect like back in school. Do they still do that these days?

What it all means for you personally and professionally

OK, so I’m not going to bore you with philosophy about this subject. I just want to pick out how this concept can be useful. More useful than you may think. What really struck a chord with me is this. Pirandello was cast into despair with the realization that he wasn’t “him” to others. Even more so when he felt that he wasn’t even “himself” to himself. Before we break out the straitjackets, the point is that there’s no need to despair. Let it set you free. Harness each and every one of “you” and use them to your advantage. Forget about the phrase “be yourself”.

Because let’s face it, you need your various selves at different points of your day/week/year/life. They (though not ALL of them) are essential to help you navigate your path successfully.

And as Pirandello points out,

“Your identity lies in that — the difference between what you know about yourself, what others know, and what others merely think.”

So what can you do to try and mould these various selves?

Make a conscious effort to be the best version of yourself in each and every situation.

The key word here is “conscious”. How many times are you in a situation when afterwards you say to yourself ‘Damn I wish I had not said that, or acted in that way’? ‘I wish I had done this or that instead.’ One trick which I use sometimes is to think of people I admire in certain situations where I know that I need to essentially act like someone else. And I always try to think of the best person I know who would have the best reaction or action in that specific situation.

Then I try as best as possible to do that. Even if it means going against what I would do by instinct. At the end of the day, everything starts with a decision. Your decision. So, decide to be in charge of your own perception of reality first. Because if you don’t, some of the people you meet, work or socialize with – or pitch to – are waiting in line to craft that perception for you the way they like. If you managed the above successfully more often than not, you’ll succeed in projecting the image of yourself you want.

Don’t be afraid when people are right about you and you are wrong

So you were totally wrong about yourself. Its OK. No need to beat yourself up about it. The point is to acknowledge it. This is a tough one and something I often fail at controlling. The result is that people see me in a certain light that can perhaps hold me back. Both personally and professionally.

Unfortunately, you can not avoid comparing yourself to people or being compared by others. You may think you are confident, easy-going, friendly and quiet. But someone else might say you’re withdrawn, sulky, egotistical and hard to get on with. Sometimes you can’t win. But you can learn by realizing why you appear in a certain light by asking close friends, family and trusted colleagues. So that next time you can tweak “yourself”.

Revel in the mystery of your “selves”

How many times have you done something, or acted in a certain way and immediately thought afterwards, why the hell did I do that? If you’re anything like me it happens a lot. These are the parts of your many true “selves” coming to the fore. What you say and do sometimes will not make sense. The point is to realize what it actually was that made you say or do that thing. One day you may feel and act like a sloth, the next a well-oiled machine of productivity. Make a note to yourself that you are always evolving, relative to your age and surroundings, among other things. Find inspiration in your mysterious ways.

Example. I decided in my early 20s that I didn’t want to get married. No, the laid back, Scandinavian approach was the way forward for me. I was going to live for years in a bachelor pad with friends. We’d have a lounge fridge, bean bags, video games and pinball machines, etc. What did I end up doing? Getting married and having a family. There are many more of these types of examples where you do things you simply can’t predict. Revel in it. It’s part of who you are after all.

Perception is reality [most of the time]. Use it to your advantage.

I used to hate this phrase. I always thought that people who use it do so because they are too lazy to get to know the real you. They use masked prejudice as way to categorize you. In a way, this is true. But even if they are, that’s not the point. They are perceiving you in a certain way in a large part because of your actions. So you can control that perception, as long as you know how you want to be perceived. It’s up to you.

Of course there’s another side of the fence here. That the idea is only a half-truth, because it is also true to say that “perception is illusion.” But that’s a whole other blog post. Let’s settle on one common thing: find a way to put a measure of control over how people perceive you, and you’re halfway there.

Yourself or someone like you

I feel more confused about myself now after coming to the end of this post. Not surprising I guess. Maybe I have to read Pirandello’s novel again. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be yourself, in order to succeed in work and in your personal life. You can be yourself, or someone like you.

Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.