Be Who You Are, Not Who You Wish You Were

Photo thanks to WeHeartIt

First off: a caveat. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s something wrong with having aspirations for yourself. Dreams, hopes, future plans, blueprints of your mansion in the Canary Islands – whatever. It’s a beautiful thing to be inspired by life, to be looking forward to things, to wish something for yourself that you don’t currently possess.

There’s also nothing wrong with adjusting your current behaviours in the hopes of becoming a better you, to say no to activities you might enjoy but know are unproductive (like countless hours of watching TV, for example!) or make yourself do the hard work that will get you where you need to be.

The real problem arises wherever we attempt to mold ourselves into somebody else.  When our plans for ourselves don’t match up with our true values, personalities or skills. When we’re operating under a script for our “ideal” self that just doesn’t jibe with who we really are or what truly makes us happy.

Where we get these useless scripts differs from person to person: perhaps they’re sourced from our perceived (or real) parental expectations, our jealousy of a friend, our information from the media of what constitutes beauty or achievement, or our lack of self-reflection. It’s useful to try and isolate the sources of your ineffective scripts, confront them, and keep them in mind as you move through your life. 

Case Study: Lies About Reading!

I’ll give you an example. Many people believe there’s only one way to read books. They may have a script about reading books which includes several rules. One very common idea is that classic novels are very important to read, and are a source of enjoyment & learning..

I can’t say exactly where people develop these scripts, but in my anecdotal experience, that’s a common rule. Obviously, it is complete bogus. Be who you are, not who you wish you were. If you have tried to read several of the “great” classic novels, and have enjoyed them – continue to do so. If you have tried, and disliked them – cease reading them for now, try again if you are later inspired to try again. And if you have no interest in trying them – follow that voice over to the type of books that you might really enjoy, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Who says you have to change your interests?
I once told my boyfriend, who had shelves in his apartment full of unread classic novels, that if reading wasn’t interesting him, maybe he just wasn’t reading the right things for him. He considered this, and started becoming open to the idea of reading books within his interests. Lo and behold, he’s now the one suggesting we stop by the bookstore, and devouring books in his spare time. The only difference is, he’s now buying business and motivation books, a subject he currently finds fascinating. He found a way outside of his defective script, and is now finding enjoyment in an activity he previously found tedious.

Recognizing Your Patterns and Scripts

It’s all about being who you really are. Doing the things you really like, not the things you wished you liked. And while there’s always room for self-improvement, you really can’t change yourself at your core. Of course, trial-and-error is very important, because how can you know if you like something if you’ve never given it a chance?

 But it’s even more important to always keep in mind your scripts: both the defective ones acquired from your environment, and the perfect ones that are rooted in your true values and passions. There’s nothing wrong with saying: “I think running is a healthful activity that makes me feel good, and even though I sort of HATE it right now, I want to do it for myself, because I believe it will ultimately make me happy”. But there is something wrong with saying: “I’m so jealous of all the runners I see on the street, they’re so much more in control of their lives than I am, I need to run more so I can look like/act like/be like them”. First of all, your motivation ain’t going to stick around indefinitely if it’s for the wrong reasons, and secondly the activity won’t truly ever make you happy because you’re doing it for and because of other people. 

 The best thing you can do for yourself is to recognize your scripts: both the ones that aren’t you and the ones that are you. Notice them as much as possible. You might find yourself dismissing your childlike excitement to do a word search or dress in bright colours because of a defective script that says “that’s not who you’re supposed to be! Be more A, B and C!” But you need to hold on tight to the excitement, and realize that it’s your internal script calling out for attention. It’s telling you something important: what you really enjoy. What you love to do. What you would do if there weren’t any rules or expectations. What you should be doing.

 As you move through this week, making choices about how to spend your time and how to tackle activities, try to take a step back and identify your scripts. See if you can catch your nagging brain, constantly informing you of the expectations you’ve picked up from others, the unrealistic notion of the person you “wish you were”, who you “should be”. And try and find the little moments of clarity or excitement about activities you truly enjoy. Try to dismiss the first voice and amplify the second. Do less of what the first voice recommends, and more of the second.

 It doesn’t make us happy to try and fit a mold made for somebody else. We are happiest when we accept who we are, and do what makes sense for our personalities and passions.

 What really truly makes you happy? Have you ever been surprised by what you really enjoy? Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed by the activities that you find the most amusing? Where do your scripts come from, and which are the most powerful for you? Who is the person you wish you were, but most definitely aren’t?

If you’re interested, I’ve written about similar topics here and here.


My apologies for the week-long hiatus! I’d been doing so well with my twice-weekly posting this month that it pained me to take a break. Actually that’s not quite correct – I was already in pain, so I couldn’t write my posts! Let me tell you right now: run, don’t walk to your nearest flu shot clinic. That flu is downright nasty, and really knocks you out for the bulk of a week. And for me at least, fever doesn’t inspire creativity, so it’s counter-productive as well. 

Not to worry, it does pass through pretty quickly, and I feel great now. Great enough to come back to the blog, write some new words, and start drafting this month’s sexy hot newsletter and my NaNoWriMo novel. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, please do so here, and if you want to become my buddy on the NaNo website, my profile is right here!

8 thoughts on “Be Who You Are, Not Who You Wish You Were”

  1. Interesting post. I can’t lie and say I’ve had bouts of pretending to be something I wasn’t, and it rarely works out well. But I also think that people need to be careful not to settle into a script. There are so many things I love that I used to think just weren’t for me (as you alluded to with the story about your boyfriend and books). Its funny–I’m about to graduate college in a mere seven weeks. And when I think about who I was when I started college, I seem like a completed different person. But my core values are the same. I’m still not a partyer, I still make my schoolwork a priority, and I still believe family is everything. Again, as you alluded to. I tried pretending differently and I wasn’t having fun and I didn’t feel comfortable. Luckily, today, I’m much more comfortable with who I am now.

    1. Hi Rin! Did you start Nano last night? The website messed up and I don’t have you listed as a Writing Buddy anymore…maybe you can send me the link and we can try again!!

      As for your comment – I’m glad to see that you get where I’m coming from! Props to you for staying true to who you are, and recognizing that that doesn’t mean you can’t change, it just means you change in ways to make you a happier and better person – by your own standards, no one else’s. It’s so great to take off the glasses with the wrong prescription and making things work for you, in your own way, isn’t it?! What are some of the things you’re talking about that you used to think didn’t work for you?

      Nice to hear from you. Good luck with Nano!!!

      1. I finished up planning yesterday and I have schedule in writing time tonight! I’m so excited!

        I used to think exercise and working out wasn’t for me. I used to joke that I was “allergic” to exercise. Then I took a good look at myself and realized I wasn’t healthy. I have serious illnesses like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure that run in my family. I can’t do anything about the genetics. But I can take care of myself. So I committed myself to a healthier lifestyle. That was over a year ago and I’m still going. I’ve lost 35 pounds, I LOVE exercise, and I easily make healthy choices in eating (in fact, I prefer them). I didn’t think that could be me. Now, I can’t imagine life without it. I didn’t lose weight to make my boyfriend love me more or to look like a model. I did it for me. I still do. I became healthy because I deserve to be. There are things you can and can’t control, and your diet and exercise is something you can, so I took control.

        I also push myself more. I used to let my anxiety hinder me, and I lost out on a lot of opportunities. I still do sometimes, because I find it really hard. But I know its good to push myself outside my comfort zone (never anything dangerous!). For that, I am so thankful, because I’ve been able to attend a faith-affirming retreat to learn leadership skills, hear the Pope speak (he’s an amazing speaker, whatever people think about him), make awesome friends, hear Amy Tan (the writer) speak, develop great relationships with professors, make helpful connections, affect the lives of others through public speaking and community service, etc. If I didn’t push myself, I wouldn’t have had these experiences, which have affected the person I’ve become. Now I realize that it is part of “me” to push myself. Even others around me have recognized this quality in me.

        1. I’m so excited too! I did my first “daily words” and updated my word count and it was so exciting!!! It’s fun even just to write, without worrying about whether it’s good or bad. I’m having a good time.

          And wow Rin, your stories are absolutely amazing. I especially love reading about all the things you’ve accomplished by pushing yourself despite your anxiety. Those are such wonderful things that I’d love to experience too! Good for you. Your story is inspiring me: where can I push myself in my life to be better?! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Hmm.. I’m not entirely sure that I believe in the idea that we have some sort of “true self”. While I would like to believe that we all have some core values (we are good, not evil, freedom is a right, betterment and curiosity is a natural instinct, etc.) I also think that the environment is very powerful in determining what type of person we become are what we find attractive (or not). I also think that we can fundamentally change who we are by acts of will. I don’t think there is really one true way to live life. I also don’t think that it’s a mutually exclusive proposition between being yourself and being who you wish you were. I would not be who I am right now if I hadn’t decided to make some difficult decisions that went against who I was at that time. I also know that there are some behaviors that I engage in that are very “me” but that I would be better off without. The path to actualization and enlightenment is a complicated one.

    I’ve become fond of two quotes that I think accurately convey the conflict (but also the hope). First from Elizer Yudkowsky, an AI researcher and cognitive scientist: “There is human nature, which is what we are. And then there is humane nature which is, being human, what we wish we were.” Second from Abraham Maslow: “What people can be, they must be”.

    Anyways, keep thinking.

    1. Hello hello, thanks for your comment :)

      I totally agree with you when you say: “the path to actualization and enlightenment is a complicated one”. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m not pretending to have all the answers. But I wrote this article because of noticing a powerful trend among my friends and even myself, to wish we enjoyed activities that we know for sure we don’t. We’ve been there, done that, disliked it, but we still keep forcing ourselves to do it because of some mysterious motivation. It could be the perception of “cool” or “in control”, which are qualities we wish we were (and might strive to become in ways that reflect our true selves!!), but that doesn’t change the fact that continuing to push ourselves to do activities we know we don’t like for reasons that aren’t true to who we are is not a positive thing.

      I understand what you’re trying to say – sometimes we don’t like things about who we truly are. And sometimes we don’t like doing things to get where we truly want to go. I’m not denying it! But I’m just challenging people to question whether this something they don’t like about themselves – is it because of what other people are telling them is “unwanted”? And to question whether this place they’re forcing themselves to get to is somewhere they truly want to be. I don’t disagree that sometimes we gotta push ourselves hard to become the people we want to become, but it will only really work if it’s somewhere we really want to get to, for ourselves and nobody else.

      Maybe it’s a faint line, but I think it’s a real one. And while our environment tends to mold us to find certain things attractive, I’m sure many people would testify to the fact that they didn’t like the way they were raised, don’t agree with their parents on many things, and want to find something else for themselves. I only wanted to encourage everyone to critically examine their “right/wrong” scripts and see if they’re formed for the goal of happiness, or if they’re the wishes/desires of those around them.

      But thanks for your intelligent comment. I’m so glad that my article provoked a rebuttal. Your comment really made me think. Thanks Shrutarshi!

      1. I think we agree more than we disagree :-). In the end I think we all have to find our own paths to whatever it is that we want ( and decide for ourselves if we actually want it). But luckily we have friends, family and mentors to show as the way even if we ultimately have to walk it ourselves.

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