On being yourself

“Now commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice. They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips. The most common grand advice they give is for you to be yourself. It is an odd piece of advice to give people dressed identically, but you should—you should be yourself. But you should understand what that means.

Unless you are perfect, it does not mean – don’t make any changes. In a certain sense, you should not be yourself. You should try to become something better. People say ‘be yourself’ because they want you to resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be. But you can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And while ‘just do it’ might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when it’s trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you. And one important clue to living a good life is to not to try to live the good life. The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is frankly not to think about them at all.” | John Roberts, US Supreme Court Justice at Cardigan Mountain School

There are three wise nuggets in this excerpt.

First, “Be yourself” is advice that shouldn’t be taken at face value. Be yourself so you don’t conform and follow someone else’s dogma. But, don’t let that get in the way of becoming the best version of yourself.

Second, don’t let life happen to you. Be intentional about what you value and how you live in accordance to those values. Make those values virtues.

Finally, as Viktor Frankl explained, don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.

And it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.