“Be yourself” is a saying you’ve likely seen or heard fifteen times already today. The idea behind the phrase takes on several different meanings. One is the “forget the world” variety, which tells us to throw out all social conventions, all care or thought of others and their opinions, and just do what we feel like. But then we realize this won’t work because we actually do care about what other people think. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing to want and even need this kind of connection to others.
There is also the “you’re perfect just the way you are” version of “be yourself,” which insists that personal growth, life improvement, and wanting to be a better person betrays your true self. Just be your own flawed self. Let the cards lie as they may. But a world where no one cares to grow or improve sounds like a new kind of hell. That’s a world with no apologies and no forgiveness, no aha moments, and no newness. That’s not a world any of us want. We all have things to apologize for and new places to try to get to.
Maybe what we should mean by “be yourself” is that we each have a unique purpose in life. You can want to be loved by others and still be yourself. You can want to grow and still be yourself. Maybe being ourselves isn’t a commitment to static individualism, but a commitment to our own unique journey to fullness. “Be yourself” can mean I’ll be me, you be you, and together each of us can be more of who we were meant to be.