This past weekend, former NBA Star and Boston College basketball player Chris Herren spoke at BC about his personal battle with drugs and alcohol. Among an abundance of insightful wisdom gained from his own experience, Herren greatly emphasized his idea that people turn to substance abuse because, for various reasons, they cannot handle being themselves all the time.
This seems like a fair assessment. Whether it’s the desire to be more easygoing, less stressed, less socially inhibited, more confident, or any number of other issues we see in ourselves, people use alcohol or drugs to change some part of them—if only for the night.
Assuming Herren is correct, his assertion seems to raise a larger question: What does it truly mean for people to be themselves?
“Be yourself” is purported as a catch-all guarantee for success. First date, job interview, first day of school, any new social situation—no problem, just be yourself!
Yet, it may be time to re-evaluate this advice when so many young people find reasons to choose not to be themselves every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
It is important to recognize what causes people not to want to be themselves. For BC students, we will assume that most drinking or recreational drug use occurs in social situations—parties, bars, pregames, tailgates, postgames, etc. Following this assumption, many people feel that in order to have a good time, they must fit in with their peers. In order to fit in, a person feels he/she must suppress self-perceived flaws in order to construct the illusion of the person he/she truly wants to be. However, this feeling doesn’t end after the party does.
Removing drugs and alcohol from the equation, we are left with the following: Many people face an ongoing internal conflict between who they are and who they really want to be. The "solution" to this problem, in the short term, is to avoid it.
Hiding from individual flaws is inherently counterproductive in that it actively prevents people from becoming who they want to be. People would greatly benefit from working to accept their own insecurities, or (if possible) making efforts to eliminate their causes. The reality is that people are more prone to neglect their issues than they are to confront them. So, rather than echoing the mantra of “be yourself,” which encourages people to let their own demons make them unhappy, it would be more fitting instead to offer the following advice: better yourself.
In order to better oneself, a person must want and actively seek to do so. If you are able to come to terms with your insecurities, own them. If you feel there is room for improvement, start small. Making some of the more superficial changes may be easier: work out more, wear clothes that fit better, get a new haircut, etc. The more profound insecurities may be harder (though not impossible) to tackle.
This is not to say that being an authentic version of yourself, imperfections and all, is not good enough. Rather, we should realize that the versions of ourselves that we seek to become on the weekends, the more confident, less insecure me and you, are not fleeting transformations that must end when the clock strikes midnight, but rather achievable goals. Every person has to define "be yourself" on their own terms. Make it mean the best version of yourself, one that you don't feel the need to shed come Thursday night.
Herren ended his talk by challenging his audience to individually discern whether they were people by whom their future children would be inspired. Yet, people cannot inspire others until they accept themselves as the best version of who they can be.