The “Just be Yourself” Challenge / Dr. Mitchel Adler

By Dr. Mitchel Adler
2018 Women’s Leadership Conference Breakout Keynote Speaker

“Just be yourself!” Three simple words.  They’re easy to say, but not always easy to do.  As a clinical psychologist, these three basic words make me cringe, as there is a subtle shame that can emerge when we think that it’s simple to “just be yourself.”

Being authentic, or “just being yourself,” stands as one of the most challenging tasks in life. Why? Because humans are complex, contextual beings. We each have unique histories that helped shape our brain’s 87 billion neurons into an amazing neural tapestry that is ever evolving through life experience and neuroplasticity.  This complexity leads to an almost infinite number of choices in any given moment for us to consider when we want to “just be ourselves.”  I have watched many clients, as well as friends (and dare I say, myself), struggle with self-doubt at the idea of sharing their true self.

For instance, what would be an authentic response to someone cutting you off in your car?  Well, my guess is that it would depend on a number of factors.  Was it really their fault, were you in a rush, had you been in an accident recently, are you hungry, did they remind you of someone that irritates you?  Multiple feelings can emerge at any one moment based on the context, your personal history, the people present, as well as your mood that day.  These factors affect your perceptions.  Indeed, what you choose to express is multifactorial and not so simple.

We honor ourselves by acknowledging this complexity and having permission to make mistakes, to explore our thoughts and feelings, to try out new ways of being, and to challenge the myth that there’s only one way that our true self is revealed.  

Humans need to feel safe to be authentic, not only in the real world, but also inside of ourselves.  If we anticipate a threat that we will be dismissed, rejected or attacked, it is very difficult (and not always a smart choice) to be honest and revealing.  It could get us ostracized, injured, and in some cases, killed.  While it takes courage to be authentic and to face our fears, sometimes our fears are well advised and worth listening to.  However, more often, our fears are just remnants of our past.  They reflect ways we adapted to earlier environments to cope and survive.  This is where the work is!  Can we take an honest look at ourselves to discover which feelings are responses to our current situation and which feelings are triggered remnants of our past that no longer serve us?  This discovery process takes mindful intention, time and courage!

Yes, let’s strive to be authentic and to bring out our most true self.  But remember that you are allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect, to protect yourself when you get scared and to take risks when you so desire.  The best way to “just be yourself” is to do so with patience, self-compassion and some heartfelt moxy.

I’m honored and excited to offer a breakout keynote session on “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” at this year’s ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference. I’ll be sharing applied tips and tools around how to tap into our most authentic self by understanding more deeply the role of emotions in our lives and how to use that emotional data to inform healthy choices as leaders and as human beings. With access to this rich emotional landscape, we have more capacity to choose the parts of ourselves that we most want to show the world.