Somebody told me today be yourself, just be yourself. One of those all-encompassing one-liners flying around from one person to another bringing every conversation to a dead-end. Alright! No problem, give me a minute to change and become myself. Automatically looking to my wardrobe. Is it a place where I find myself? Maybe my passport will tell me who I am? Looking in the mirror now. Maybe this is me? How can I be in two places simultaneously, here and one meter away? Am I behind my face? Between my ears? I can’t even find myself but I already have to be one.
This condition to be yourself suggests some kind of a final, state of being with a specified goal at the horizon. Seems like everyone knows what it is to be myself, and I am the only one who has to catch-up with the knowing. Why otherwise anyone would give such an advice?
When people call to act as yourself, most of the time they either project their own shadow, pour out their unrealised desires, or referring to a persona. Persona is our social face we present to the world. It shows our ability to fit in a hierarchical structure, understand its order and agree upon it. Loyally and compliantly carrying out the role that was assigned to us. By the way the original meaning of the word persona literally means a mask that actor was wearing during a play. When we wear our persona which play are we playing and who is the author? A persona has a very important function as it takes a role of a communicator, a negotiator for the ego and the lawyer and the guard of the shadow. The persona is not merely a mask but a true shapeshifter, it can switch between different social roles, constantly adapting to situations.
The persona is a social butterfly making it very attractive to fully identify with. Being good in your role means admiration, success, recognition and attention. Being a good actor also means that you can embed yourself into the role completely, fully identify with the character and lose the connection with the one who is playing.
Perhaps the process of dissolution can help in finding answers to the question: why the advice to be yourself is so difficult to implement. You just don’t know who that is any more. Our personas get all the attention, nurtured, fed, educated, cherished and invested in. Having a well behaved, morally responsible, slightly dependable and happy enough persona enables society to exist as a coherent homogeneous organisation moving in unison towards a common goal. All safe and sound, isn’t it. The problem starts when the persona takes over and the gap between the unfamiliar and manifested self starts growing. If the traditional system fails, new roles have to be developed that’s when the question who am I appears?
We are doing our best to focus on the role, perform with consistency, please the audience and the director so along the way we forgot the one behind the mask. And most importantly that it works for us, integrating, representing and facilitating the ever-changing being ourselves state. And when someone gives a great piece of advice just be yourself the impossibility to find this self brings down the curtain. The play is over. Take the mask off and look at the mirror, are you behind your face? Can you find it?