The 'Being True To Yourself' Approach to Changing Socially
There are different approaches people can take toward the idea of changing or improving how they are socially. The biggest one is being true to your natural preferences and tendencies, and not trying to change them for anyone else. This article will talk about that.
The other two general philosophies toward change are 1) be pragmatic about how the social world is set up and adapt in order to get what you want out of it, and 2) try to truly alter your personality. Most people won't go all in on one approach. They'll apply a mix of philosophies to different areas depending on what's important to them.
General outline of the 'Be True To Yourself' approach
This one doesn't need a ton of explanation. The idea behind it is that in social situations it's better to be true to whatever your 'default settings' are. There are a few reasons for this. First, this philosophy believes people will just be happier this way, and that trying to change can cause problems.
Second, it assumes that people have a variety of orientations toward socializing, and one type isn't better or worse than another. Preferring to spend your weekends reading at the cottage isn't inferior to wanting to hang out with ten friends in a bar.
Some common areas where people want to be true to themselves are:
- Liking a lot of alone time
- Not being into wild, boisterous social events
- Not being thrilled with rote, superficial conversation
- Having interests that most people don't have, or that others even think are odd or pointless
- Not being interested in things many people like, such as team sports or pop culture
- Having an overall personality that many people would consider quirky or eccentric
- Their core values, beliefs, and philosophies about life (e.g., political or religious convictions, not caring about material possessions)
- The way they want to live their life, such as choosing not to get married or have kids
- Anything that goes against the social norm, and where they pick up a message that it would be better if they brought themselves around to be more like everyone else
If you can swing it, being true to yourself is the best way to go
When three choices about changing are possible - this one, being pragmatic, and truly trying to change - this is the best option. It's just better for people's souls to do what comes naturally and not feel like they have to adjust or compromise to get by in the world. Even when being true to yourself creates some friction, it's often worth it in exchange for being able to live day to day knowing you're staying true to your values. The tougher question is whether it's feasible to be totally, completely true to yourself at all times. Different people will think about that question and come to their own conclusions.
Benefits of being true to yourself
Aside from the general peace of mind it can bring, being true to yourself can be the way to go for other reasons.
Some things you just shouldn't have to change
Some things are too central to our identity to change for social reasons. For example, someone's religious beliefs or sexual identity may lead them to look or act in a way that clashes with the mainstream. There are intolerant people who won't approve.
If someone was 100% cold, practical, and pragmatic they may say, "Well, on a day-to-day basis it would be easier for them to just dress and act in a way that's more acceptable to the masses." Uh, no. People shouldn't have to submerge their core identity just because it may be superficially practical. I mean it's one thing to say, "Hm, I have a bad habit of arguing too much. I'll try to cut that out." It's another to go, "I'll stop dressing in accordance with my religious values because some strangers may not be sure how to take it."
Almost everyone can find a niche they fit into
It's not true that if someone is different from the norm their only option is to conform or be alone forever. Whatever you're like, and whatever you're into, you can probably find a group of like-minded people to fall in with if you look hard enough (even if there isn't anyone physically in your area, there's always the internet). People naturally sort themselves based on similarities. Obviously, you're going to be happier, more accepted, and feel less-constrained around peers you have a lot in common with.
You can often get by just fine by being yourself
There are hoards of people who differ from their friends or partners in some way, but they're still perfectly accepted. Maybe their buddies all like football but they're up front about not particularly caring about it. However, since they're solid in lots of other ways they're still welcomed into the group. As a general rule, the more you have to offer socially in other ways, the more you can get away with deviating from the majority on some issues and still be accepted.
Most people have some aspects of themselves that don't fit into the norm
Occasionally you'll meet someone who's a walking embodiment of a completely average, mainstream person. It must be convenient to go through life having your every urge and whim fall in line with what society prefers. However, most people have a bunch of traits that are out of sync with the social ideal. They stay true to themselves anyway.
It's often your individual differences that make you stand out
When you're with people, to a large extent it's your differences that set you apart from everyone else and make you enjoyable to be around. Your sense of humor is a little bit different, and funnier, than your friends'. You know more about a certain topic than everyone else. You have a unique perspective on life. Even if a group of friends are broadly similar, their idiosyncrasies give their get togethers some flavor.
Variety makes life more interesting
I know this sounds cheesy, but life would be more boring if we were all exactly the same. Getting to be around a range of different people makes socializing more unpredictable and rewarding. In small doses even people's personality flaws spice things up a bit. If someone is totally flaky or bossy, that's just irritating, but if they have mild versions of those same traits, it just adds a little color.
It's impossible to win with everyone
No matter how you come across, some people may not like your 'type'. There's no point in totally trying to change to please everyone, because you just can't. What some groups like are the exact opposite of what other ones prefer.
You can sometimes win people over by staying true to yourself
Sometimes everyone in a group will feel a certain way about something and the easy thing to do would be to pretend you feel the same, maybe by omission. At times speaking up and saying you feel differently will earn you more respect. Even if the others can't agree with you, they admire you for not turning your back on your beliefs.
Another example: If you're talking to someone you just met, you may not be sure whether you should mention certain things about yourself, maybe that you like reading about history. But sometimes you'll mention it and the other person will say they like the same thing, or tell you about their own closet interest. If you had never spoken up and tried to portray yourself as totally generic, you never would have gotten the chance to connect with them on that point.
Some of the best things in the world have come from people going their own way
There are hundreds of examples, in art, science, academics, and fashion. Someone went against the grain of the time and came up with something new and better. The only way they were able to do that is because they held an outsider, minority perspective. They may have drawn some disapproval, but they didn't care because their vision was more important than getting along with everyone.
Downsides to being true to yourself
A lot of the time when someone is true to their natural social preferences they get along just fine and nothing really comes of it. A guy doesn't follow cricket like all his friends, and no one really cares and everyone still likes him just fine. Or someone prefers to spend a lot of time on their own, and no one has any real problem with it. Maybe they get the odd comment or thoughtless remark when they go their own way, but it's rare and super-easy to brush off. Still, being true to yourself isn't always the perfect solution...
Going against the grain can causes hassles and friction
Whatever culture or subculture you find yourself in, the wider social world is going to be set up a certain way and isn't likely to change anytime soon. If you go against what that social norm expects of you it can lead to hassles. On occasion it can cause a lot of problems. Plenty of quiet people have had their careers suffer because their office culture thought it would be better if they were chatty and outgoing. A university student may be teased by her roommates because she'd rather stay home and watch a movie than go to a loud, flashy club.
When you're true to yourself you're making a decision that the benefits of doing so outweigh the irritations it can cause, and that you have the resources to handle the hurdles that come up. If the hassles don't seem worth it, this is when people's minds start going into pragmatic mode.
If you're true to yourself you may have a hard time getting everything you want from the social world
This is another point regarding the realities of how the world is. The ideal is that if someone is true to themselves then everything will just work out. That's not always the case. Everyone has an expectation of how other people should act, and some of these standards are more common than others. Certain interests are more popular too. Finally, there are going to be certain personality traits that people generally appreciate more.
I'll use an exaggerated example. Say someone wants a busy social life, but they don't care about grooming or hygiene, will only talk about bird watching, and enjoy pointing out people's flaws. And let's say this person has decided that these traits are just who they are, and changing would be compromising that. Odds are they're going to have a really difficult time filling their social calendar. Again, this is territory where people start thinking about making practical concessions to get what they want.
Feeling you're being true to yourself may be excusing a legitimate weakness
The issue of what's a social difference and what's a true flaw or weakness is another question. But let's just say someone has a real social weakness, one that everyone would easily agree is a problem. Like maybe they're extremely condescending, or prone to angry outbursts. It's their choice to do so of course, but if they take the stand that they're being true to themselves by not correcting these faults, they're just hurting their social prospects.
At times adopting the 'I'm being true to myself' stance can be self-limiting
People sometimes pick up new interests they never thought they'd enjoy, or come to believe opinions they'd never have told you they'd accept. Sometimes their personalities are way more flexible than they would have believed. When they change like this they're sometimes happy they did so as well. Someone may think dancing is stupid, then decide to tag along with a friend to a trial salsa class, and have it become one of their biggest passions. If they had said right off the bat, "No. I'll never like dancing. It's not who I am. Not going", they'd never have found that out.
I think it's generally important to be true to your values, and trust that you know what's best for you, but at the same time leave some room for the possibility that you can change and grow in ways you wouldn't expect. I think sometimes people can be too rigid about saying, "No, that's just how I am. The way I am now is the way I'll always be."