Everyone, at some point, has heard that seemingly ubiquitous advice: just be yourself. Keep it real, be true to yourself, be your own person, find yourself, express yourself, be confident in yourself, have self-esteem, follow your own path, and so on. On the one hand, this guidance seems completely natural: are we not all trying our best to be ourselves? Yet, on the other hand, the directive, be yourself, sometimes sounds strangely hollow: after all, who else could I possibly be but myself? Of course, everyone is familiar with the many ways in which we fail to be ourselves. We all know the pressures and impulses to conform, to mask, to deny ourselves. We say what we think others want us to say; we act the way others want us to act. We lie to ourselves, betray ourselves, forget ourselves, let ourselves down, and neglect ourselves. On top of all this we live at a time of rapidly advancing technologies for the chemical manipulation of moods and the genetic engineering of physical and mental traits. Faced with the capacity to transform one's mood, memory, longevity, or sexuality through chemical or genetic manipulation, what could it possibly mean to “just be yourself”?
And yet in the face of all these obstacles we still seek out and prize the true, authentic self and the true, authentic life. This struggle to be true to oneself is one of the most defining characteristics of modern life.