One of the most commonly found quotes today, to my knowledge, is likely this one from our timeless friend, Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”.
I couldn’t agree more; as a teenager, I see people trying tirelessly to be someone else, by coating their faces in makeup, giggling at jokes passively, subduing themselves, quieting themselves. It breaks my heart to see people so insecure in their natural selves, and I desperately wish these people could see their personal worth who they are.
That being said, there are certain situations in which “being someone else”, for a lack of a better term, may be the best way for someone to grow. Stepping into another person’s identity can be just the thing to help you get out of a psychological or spiritual rut, and learn more about yourself than you dreamed imaginable.
As a young person currently growing up, a huge part of my life is experimentation. People experiment in vastly different ways, some more legal than others, but for the purpose of ease let’s assume I’m talking about legal and moral forms of experimentation. As a small example, not long ago, I began to listen to more rock music such as Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Rush (if only I could have been alive in the 80’s and 90’s). I’ve also diversified my style in clothing by wearing things that weren’t characteristically me. These aren’t drastic changes, by any means; more radical examples of experimentation include sexual orientation experimentation, lifestyle experimentation, diet experimentation, and relationship experimentation (wherein you make new friends that aren’t necessarily the people you are usually drawn to).
This kind of experimentation is, in a way, pushing yourself to be someone new, or perhaps to convey a side of you that is generally dormant and pushed underneath the surface. By trying new things and stepping slightly out of your identity, however, you may find incredible new passions, possibly things you want to pursue in your life. You may find that you simply aren’t the person you thought yourself to be; maybe you really enjoy the goth crowd hanging around at the bar across the street from your apartment, though before you were only friends with your pleasant and passive coworkers. Being someone else for a while can be exhilarating, and it can broaden your external perspective on the world, and (more importantly) your internal perspective on yourself. Your desires, preferences, how you want to fit into this world, how you love others. Isn’t that the point, at the end of the day?
I for one know that if I want to get anything done that’s meaningful in this life, I must first understand myself. And to do that, I have to occasionally be someone else to learn if I prefer that identity. Your personality is not a pre-created, genetically engineered entity that you were born with: it’s fluid, it’s constantly changing, it’s adjustable, and you may not have discovered the depth of it yet. At my age, I sure haven’t, but I believe it is a lifelong goal.
So that’s fantastic, but how to put it into practice? If you’re in a rut, needing a change, it can be really, really hard to even consider altering yourself. Maybe you’ve been in the same job or school for years, and already have a set identity that you don’t want to abandon for fear of embarrassment or social rejection. I don’t blame you; perhaps my worst fear is abandonment, and that can seem to come hand in hand with identity change. I’ve come up with a handy list of steps for the tentative changers, all the way up to the bold risk takers out there.
1. Meet a new group of people.
Well, isn’t that specific? For an introvert like myself, this can seem an almost insurmountable feat on its own. But not to worry; there are plenty of ways to get out there and meet people outside of your crowd. I’m assuming you can drive (and how lucky you are), so you don’t even have to worry about getting a ride! Some very easy places to get acquainted with new people are: book clubs, coffee shops, bars (I think?), parks, gyms, open mic venues, your local McDonald’s (you never know). Perhaps go to a place you wouldn’t normally find yourself, and you are guaranteed to find a group of regulars who aren’t carbon copies of your friends. Getting to know new people can be an amazing way to learn about yourself, and these people are likely to introduce you to new lifestyles, fashions, music, food, art, culture, activities, and passions. Really, meeting new people is the key to any sort of experimentation, since doing things in groups is so much easier than doing things alone. If you’re worried about starting a conversation with new people, I am absolutely positive there is a Wikihow article out there for you (or, really, if you’re looking for advice on anything ever). When you do meet these new people, maybe consider trying on a slightly different personality; you could use all those puns you’ve been saving up for years, pour out your spoken word prose, perhaps be more quiet and calculating. It’s all up to you how you choose to present yourself, and it might even be more fitting than your current identity. Worst case scenario, you make a fool of yourself, and you laugh it off later since you never have to see those people again.
2. Try a new hobby.
As far as I’m concerned, there are a limitless number of hobbies out there, from collecting sea glass to playing an instrument to writing fan fiction about your favorite scenes from Harry Potter. Pick up a new hobby doesn’t have to be a huge, time-consuming burden, either: it can be as simple as buying a ball of yarn, knitting needles, and hopping online to find a knitting tutorial. Future career as a world-class knitting champion attained! When I first started playing guitar and joined the jazz rock band at school, it developed a whole new, musical side of me that now I would miss terribly if I lost it. This is a pretty standard piece of advice, but I really urge you to try that something new.
3. Try new foods, music, arts, and clothing.
Few things make me feel more warm and bubbly inside than finding a new sense of fashion that makes me feel amazing about myself and my body. Girly, I know, but trying new things to stretch your appearance and tastes can be an excellent way to change the way you connect with the world and view yourself. When I’m listening to my new found rock music, sporting an eclectic outfit, and eating something I never have before, it’s like childhood dress-up. This game, really, should extend into adulthood, because it allows us to become someone radically new for a day and change the way the world views us; it can create a whole new perspective that we have on the world. By portraying yourself a certain way with your tastes, you may find that you view yourself as a slightly different person, and that the world might respond differently. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it can be exciting for a matter of hours or days or weeks to try on a new set of fashion, music, and art preferences.
4. Find a new relationship and/or job.
This is a far more serious decision than the first three suggestions, and should be given much more thought. Millions of people struggle from emotional ruts created by their current relationship: they’ve adopted a personality in the relationship and a personal routine, and they’ve outgrown it. My last relationship was of a similar case; I simply couldn’t be all that I wanted to be in the relationship, and I couldn’t reflect my entire personality, so I left it (and I’ve never made a better decision). It was hard because I cared very much about my partner, but for my own personal journey I had to call it off after over a year. Obviously this is much more difficult to do in a marriage than a high school relationship, but maybe your relationship identity is suffocating your ability to take on a new identity, and it’s time to let go. The same goes for a job; it can be very difficult to make personal changes within your work space. Perhaps it’s best for you to leave and try a new, radically different job that you truly have a passion for, if it’s financially possible. Finding this new identity in a new position can be exactly what you need. I like to argue this point with a philosophical perspective: it’s your life, and it’s your one chance to do exactly what you want with it (unless you believe in reincarnation, and I applaud you, I love Eastern religion). Really, if you step back from societal and social pressures, what is the point in spending your life doing something you don’t absolutely love? Is it worth it, for the financial security or comfort, to live a mediocre existence that you only enjoy to an extent? I certainly hope not. You have this one precious, beautiful life to live, with your one precious and beautiful soul. Please do exactly what you want with your life.
5. Help others.
If you came to my blog from Tiny Buddha, you just read about this. Congratulations, you’re on step ahead of the game. For those who haven’t I’ve begun to dedicate more of my life to helping those close to me with their personal problems. By connecting deeply with others, I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I want to lead my life. In a way, I’ve learned from the mistakes of others. I’ve taken on the identity of a close friend and even therapist for many people, putting all of my personality aside to absorb their thoughts and feelings. I try to immerse myself in the people I’m helping, to bridge the gap between my identity and theirs and to find a place where we connect. This not only helps others, but I have evolved my own personality from it, and become a whole lot kinder and more gentle too. This isn’t so much as experimentation as the other four steps, but it is still a valid way to expand your perspective and allow yourself to grow, and life is all about growth.
Maybe not all of these steps are realistic for you, and that’s normal and okay. Really, the goal of this article is to encourage you to experiment with yourself and expand your personal horizons. Play dress-up every once in a while to learn about yourself. Just because you need to “be yourself” doesn’t mean you can’t try being new versions of yourself. We are our own best friends in this life, and like best friends, we should learn as much about ourselves as we can, for our own growth and happiness.