I've been thinking a lot about this popular colloquialism. Particularly in the context of living in an increasingly individualized society. We routinely offer this advice to our youth and children in a well meaning effort to embolden their confidence in themselves, their intuition, and their decision making process. What we imply here is that there are many competing forces that will try to influence or control us and that we should strive to come back to an authentic source, what we deem here as the self.
I am not one to easily find fault in well meaning and long standing advice. But I can't ignore this growing conviction I have about what is wrong with this particular piece of advice.
Not only does it place an immense amount of pressure on some internal guidance that I do believe we possess, but it implies that the answer should be easy to find. And I think what is misleading about this is that our internal guidance takes some time to develop.
First of all...where does "you" come from? Well, there's a historical debate about that, but we can all agree that it in some part is made up of some mixture of our genetics and ancestry and our environment and experiences. Understanding which of these plays the forefront role in our decision making process can be quite complex. How do we know which "you" to listen to? Especially if our "yous" conflict.
Additionally, we can be quite deceitful. There are a multitude of ways in which we deceive ourselves everyday for the purpose of maintaining some status quo, because we might be afraid of an alternative, or because we fear rejection or ridicule, just to name a few.
So, to put it simply, "you" is not always a good source of information, particularly when you are young and impressionable and your sense of who you are is still developing. There must be some guiding principles that are larger than ourselves put in place first, in order to guide our decision making.
For example, I don't just run when I feel like it. I run because it is good for my body and mind, I enjoy feeling like I'm taking care of my health. If I left it up to myself to run when I simply wanted to, I would not be as disciplined in this approach. Instead, I keep reminding myself of the values I want for my life: Health and Wellness, and I align my actions accordingly. The more I reinforce this pattern, the easier the choice to run becomes, but I still have to vigilant, as I am just a prone to laziness as the next person.
Using values or guideposts that are larger than yourself is how we teach our inner guidance to make decisions that produce outcomes we want for our lives. Make no mistake, we are formed one way or another by our experiences, for better or worse, so being intentional about these is important.
Not only does God offer us an entire book on living a happy, fulfilling life, but he also gave us a great role model (Christ) and a sustaining, spiritual force (The Holy Spirit).
So, if the advice to "Be You" leaves you feeling a little unsure or confused about what that is, exactly, start with the larger values that you want for your life and then take a long, hard look at your actions to determine how they stack up. You will still need to consult your inner guidance and learn how to attune yourself to your own intuition.
But you don't have to go it alone. After all, who would know "you" better than the one who made you?
I have two young sons, ages six and four. From pregnancy and beyond, they have been mirroring back to me more than I ever could have dreamed of learning about myself and my own growth. As we grow together through this life, I hope to always mirror back to them the same inspiration, strength, and wonder they have shown me.