Here’s a thing: I don’t watch reality TV, because it fits my White Room definition of a complete waste of time – but sometimes I see it. And if there’s one phrase that’s guaranteed to make me fist-through-the-screen mad, it’s when one of the participants says:
‘I’m not going to change who I am for anybody.’
Now. In the case of reality show contestants, this usually means they’re reserving the right to carry on being vindictive/narcissistic/petty/aggressive or otherwise an affront to humanity, while trying to portray it as a noble act under the (false) premise that being ‘true to yourself’ is somehow more impressive than ‘not acting like a massive shit.’ But other people do it too. I hear it a lot. From people who think that reading some Dale Carnegie and learning to talk to people better would be a betrayal of who they are. From Youtube Commenters who watch Amy Cuddy’s insanely good TED talk on body language and go ‘Hmm, fake it til you make it? That seems…fake.’ From anybody who thinks that bettering themselves means somehow betraying their essence as a person.
This usually happens when it’s in an area related to social psychology – to how you talk to and deal with people. Because that, quite rightly, seems bound up with your identity. Nobody is going to have a go at you for learning French or studying physics, because those are things you’re taught at school. Some people might mumble ‘You’ve changed,’ when you refuse to hit the bar with them because you’d rather go train, but only you can judge whether those people have your best interests at heart or not. But people are uncomfortable if you start to smile more, make jokes, be more confident, because people are scared of change. Especially when it makes them realise how little they’re changing themselves.
Here’s the secret: there is no Ultimate You. In three years, you’re going to have changed as a person, whether you take a conscious hand in the process or not. As I’ve mentioned before, I look back every few years and shake my head in disbelief at how little I knew about certain things. How I act changes, how I think changes, even my values shift a bit. But I’m trying to make myself better.
And that’s the thing. You can carry on living by your core beliefs, like not being a massive shit or treating other people like you’d like to be treated yourself, while changing the things that make you better at carrying them out. Making more small talk isn’t selling out. Learning to ‘sell’ your own ideas isn’t betraying your fundamental humanity. Getting better at communicating isn’t going to make you worse, it’s going to give you more opportunities to be better. And you’re going to change, whether you want to or not: what you’re going to change into is the question.
HOMEWORK: Watch the Amy Cuddy talk and try the exercise she suggests. And if some part of you goes ‘Oh, behaving like that just isn’t who I am,’ kill that part. Live Hard!