The Being True To Yourself Approach to Change
There are different approaches people can take towards the idea of changing or improving how they function socially. The biggest one is being true to your natural preferences and tendencies and not trying to change them for other people. This article will talk about that.
The other two general philosophies towards changing are to try to truly alter your personality, and to consciously be pragmatic about how the social world is set up and adapt in order to get what you want out of it. Most people won't go all in on just one approach. They'll apply different 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 towards 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 be hang out with six friends.
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 types of socializing
- 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 different
- Their core values, beliefs, and philosophies about life (e.g., political or religious beliefs, not caring about material possessions)
- 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
Out of the three philosophies towards changing - 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 change 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 themselves 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 a person's identity to change for social reasons. For example, a person's religious beliefs or sexual identity may lead them to look or act in a way that's different from your typical person. There are intolerant people in the world who may not like that.
If someone was 100% cold, practical, and pragmatic they may say, "Well on a day-to-day basis it would be easier for that person to just dress and act in a way that's more acceptable to the mainstream." Uh, no. People shouldn't have to submerge their core identities just because it may be superficially practical. I mean it's one thing to say, "Hm, I have a bad habit of arguing with people 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 people 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 aren't people physically in your area, there's always the internet). People naturally sort themselves into groups based on similarities. Obviously, you're going to be happier, more accepted, and feel less constrained around people you have a lot in common with.
You can often get by just fine by being yourself
There are hoards of people out there who differ from their friends or partners in some way, but they're still perfectly accepted. Maybe their friends all like football but they're up front about not particularly caring about it. However, since they're solid people 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 areas, the more you can get away with differing 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 people who are walking embodiments of the totally average, mainstream person. It must be convenient to go through life having your every urge and whim just happen to fall into line with what society prefers. However most people have a bunch of traits that are out of sync with whatever the social ideal is. 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 desirable to be around. Your sense of humor is a little bit different (and funnier) than your other friends'. You know more about a certain topic than everyone else. You have a different perspective on life. Yeah, people often do like to hang out with friends who are a lot like them, but it is often the case that we appreciate someone who brings something novel to the table.
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 for you 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 deprecating your own beliefs.
Another example: If you're talking to someone new, you may not be sure whether you should mention certain things about yourself, perhaps 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 a typical individual, you never would have gotten the chance to connect with the other person 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, in science, in academic thought, in 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, non-majority perspective. They may have drawn some disapproval, but they didn't care because their vision was more important than getting along with every last person socially.
Downsides to being true to yourself
It would be easy to overstate the importance of the points in this section. 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 do, and no one really cares and everyone still likes him just fine. Or someone likes 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 social world is going to be set up a certain way and isn't likely to change any time 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 people have had their careers suffer because their office culture thought it would be better if they were more chatty and outgoing. Everyone reading this can probably think of lots of other examples, like some people assuming there's something mentally wrong with someone if they'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. I think the ideal is that if someone is true to themselves then everything will just work out. That's not always the case. Every person has an idea of how other people should behave socially, and some of these standards are more common than others. Certain interests are more popular than others 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 for themselves, but they don't care about grooming or hygiene, will only converse about their interest in bird watching, and enjoy arguing and 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 this person is going to have a really difficult time putting that busy social life together. 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 someone takes the stand that they're being true to themselves by not correcting these problems, they're ultimately hurting their long-term social success.
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 eventually 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 the way I am. The way I am now is the way I'll always be."