Can you ever not “be yourself”? Can you be John Malkovich?
You can always only be yourself. There is no other “self” to be. The image you have of your self, your identity, is a mental concept, and it is liquid. “That’s just my nature”, “that’s how I am”, “I’ve always been this way”, “I can’t change myself”. These statements keep you stuck. Yes, we are mostly creatures of habit and we mostly operate the way we do just because, but that doesn’t mean that profound change is not possible, and, further, that the changed you is still your SELF. Just a different version of your self.
In metaphysics or spiritual teaching there is the idea that, as you go deeper, there is no “personal me”, there is just the vast unlimited sense of loving kindness and presence that is all in all. Few of us get to realize this directly (unless we get very lucky) but those who have touched these moments do understand more clearly how that could even be possible. If you believe yourself to be anything, and that belief is held firmly and without question, you could not possibly understand how anything you believe, no matter how real you find it, is always just belief. The exceptions to that occur in the physical world. Water is always water, rocks are always rock. There will always be birth and death as our alpha and omega in life, but as the saying goes, nothing is certain except those two and taxes!
So, when someone tells you, “Relax, just go on and be yourself”! as if this was a specific way to behave, you can be fooled. Every moment, you being you, doing whatever you do — good, bad or mediocre — is being yourself and you cannot escape that in any way. This is an issue only because we make it one.
If you are a student and you are doing your best to sing from your heart, in a free way, without any agendas other than doing the song justice, and someone outside (an authority figure) lists for you all the things you do that are “not working”, how do you react to that? The list of what you are doing to “not be real” can be very long when teachers, coaches, music director, choral conductors and your uncle Fred recount to you all the ways you are being false and “trying too hard”. Add to that the messages in your own mind that say you are not good enough, you are not as good as Mary or Albert, and you will always be a mess, and you have a recipe for failure, struggle and pain.
The balance between being yourself without judgement, moment by moment, doing the best you can to be spontaneously open and present, weighed against the next you that is showing up and emerging as you live and breathe, is challenging. If you are someone who is “just naturally” cheerful you will annoy, just by being yourself, the person next to you who is “just naturally” gloomy. If you are someone who is emotionally open and comfortable being emotional, you will make the person next to you who is very quiet and keeps everything inside, pretty angry, just by begin yourself. On the other hand, if your way of “being up” is perceived by others as being “over the top” or if your idea of yourself is that you have to be emotional all the time in order to be free, others may think that you are just a drama diva and that it’s hard to be around you. It’s the risk you take.
So it is with singing. If you have a big full voice others may find it amazing or horrifying. If you have a light delicate voice, others may find it charming or lifeless. As always, it depends on the ears of the listener.
Therefore, take heart. You can always only be yourself, and that self can learn, grow and change while remaining true to your essence, if you remember that you are not your thoughts, your behaviors, your characteristics, your physical appearance or, even, your sound. AND, of course, paradoxically, you ARE all those things while you are walking on this earth in a body.
Be yourself. Being John Malkovich is over-rated.