I once really puzzled someone by talking about being the best version of your true self. They wondered how there could be different versions of you. Aren’t you “yourself” all the time? What else could you be?
In some ways, this young man had an excellent point. For example, if you do something that hurts a friend and then say, “That wasn’t really me,” because it’s something your ideal self wouldn’t do that doesn’t make your friend feel better. That might not be how your idea self would act but you actually did the hurtful thing in real life.
Other people interact with each of us based on the assumption that what they see is the real version of you. They might also see your potential and encourage you toward it, but for them who you are right now is the only version of yourself that exists.
But there are also different roles we play based on context. And many of us struggle with feeling like there’s a true self we hide from the world and then a different self that we show other people. We might also think about an ideal self we don’t measure up to yet. So even though who you are right now is “yourself,” you might also feel like your true/best self isn’t who you’re living as right now.
What is a “best version” of you?
The idea that there’s a “best version” of you assumes there are several different versions. There’s the version of you that your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures wanted you to be. There’s the version of you that fits in with the people you want to call friends. There’s the version of you that you don’t like very much when you look at yourself. There’s the version of you that makes you feel whole and authentic. I’m sure you could come up with others as well.
But are those really different versions of the real you? Or are you simply “you” and all those other “versions” are masks you wear or roles you choose to play?
This might just sound like nit-picking word choice, but there’s a difference between believing there are many versions of you and believing that you’re already your real self. If we go with the latter, being the best “version” of yourself isn’t about picking one of many versions that you want to be but rather about living authentically as the self you already are.
When I say “be the best version of yourself,” what I mean is live a life that’s authentically you. And while you’re doing that, I also think the authentic “you” should be working toward your highest potential. This involves figuring out who you really are and who you want to be, and then choosing to live in alignment with that.
Where do you start?
I often write about the question of finding your identity from a Christian perspective. Finding our true selves in the people God created us to be is, after all, the purpose of this blog. Most of today’s post, though, is applicable whatever your personal beliefs. For a more Christ-focused exploration of being yourself and finding your godly identity, check out these posts:
- How to “Be Yourself” as a Christian (and Figure out Who “Yourself” Really Is)
- Who Are You? How to Take off Your Masks and Live with Integrity in Your Godly Identity
None of us can live with authenticity until we figure out who we really are and want to be. We need a goal to work towards if we’re going to move forward. That’s just how things work. And so we start out by taking a good look at ourselves and ask questions like these:
- What is the “why” behind my choices, thoughts, words, and actions?
- Am I living out of fear? In other words, is fear of success, failure, disappointing others, etc. driving my choices?
- How do I talk to myself? Is it negative, positive, or something else?
- Am I letting other people’s expectations define me?
- Do I live in alignment with the beliefs I hold dear? Should I reexamine any of those beliefs?
- Are the people I surround myself with a positive, supportive influence?
- Is my identity tied-up in what I do rather than who I am?
There isn’t a “right answer” to any of these questions. They’re just meant to get you started thinking about who you really are and who you want to be. Keeping a journal can help with this, since it gives you a written record you can look back on as you grow.
If you’re not used to spending a lot of time in self-reflection, this whole exercise can be pretty uncomfortable. But being able to ask yourself these sorts of questions is an important step in figuring who you are and how you want to grow.
What are the next steps?
True, authentic living can be frightening because it involves change. Perhaps being authentic will involve talking with people who are important to you about things you’ve been hiding from them. Your soul-searching might move you to look for a new job. Maybe it makes you reexamine why you believe what you believe. Or your self-reflection could prompt you to seek out a counselor to help you work-through something that’s holding you back. Or maybe the shift is more subtle and won’t involve much outward change at all. It’s an individual thing.
Currently, I’m focused on changing my unhealthy thought patterns and moving away from letting fear control my life. My vision for my best/authentic self can be briefly summed-up like this: I am a whole, authentic person and I bring my true self to the world. I know who I am and what goals I’m working towards. The only thing or person outside myself that I look at to complete me and transform me is God, though others can help guide my journey.
Your focus, goals, and definition of your authentic self will be unique to you. They’re also an evolving thing. You define areas you want to improve. You live with honesty, compassion, integrity, and authenticity. You learn to take risks and leave your comfort zone. You let go of negativity, criticism, and doubt. You keep going when you stumble and things get tough. And you continue listening to yourself and to feedback from trustworthy people around you so you can stay on-track.
It’s tempting to try and break this process down into easy-to-follow steps, but I don’t think that’s the most helpful way of doing things. Personal growth is personal. I can’t tell you how to grow yourself. I can just encourage you to go on this journey because I think living a whole, authentic life is well worth the effort we put into getting there.
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