How to be yourself

How to be yourself: The 4 qualities everyone needs to bring out their most authentic self

It took me a long time to learn how to be myself. And it’s something I still work on every day.

You’d think being yourself would be easy, but for most of us, it’s not. The negative experiences we go through teach us that it’s not okay to be yourself. That we need to change or hide who you are to be accepted.

And it takes a lot of work to unlearn those lessons.

Practicing 4 key qualities is what helps me do that. I’ve shared what they are with you here, plus some practical ways you can incorporate them into your life to bring out your most authentic self!

1. Self-confidence

Cultivating self-confidence can feel daunting sometimes. It’s hard to know where to start or “how to get it” when you don’t already have it.

I remember when Nina and I were struggling with fundraising for Hello Iris (for context, check out our origin story!), cultivating confidence felt like a catch-22. We were striking out with investors because we weren’t confident about what we were doing. And we weren’t confident about what we were doing because we were striking out with investors.

It felt like we needed some outside validation to break the cycle. We didn’t know what value we could bring investors, so we were waiting for them to tell us. And of course, they never did.

No one else will ever tell you what your worth is. They just sense your uncertainty and assume it’s because you have nothing to offer.

That’s why it’s always on you to define your own worth. Confidence is just about being certain. And certainty comes from knowing and seeing. When we take the time to actually look at ourselves and see the value we bring others, confidence comes naturally.

But when we haven’t done that work, we don’t have a strong idea of what we can and can’t offer. So when we find ourselves in high pressure situations (like a new relationship, or an investor meeting), we start to doubt ourselves. And we try to match who we are to what we think the other person wants.

This is how we block our most authentic self — we try to change who we are to please someone else. And we hide all the things that are best about us in the process.

What helped me break out of this pattern was getting crystal clear on my own value. When I’m at my best and feel like most authentic self, what do I bring to the table? How do I make the lives of the people around me better?

👉 If you're curious about the value you bring to other people's lives just by being you, take our Friend-Making Superpower Quiz here!

To answer these questions, I did three things:

  • I picked a few of my closest relationships. The people who make me feel the most like myself when I’m with them. And I asked each one of them to explain what they loved about me.

  • I picked a few of my favourite interactions. Moments of connection or joy I always look back on fondly. And I tried to remember them with as much detail as possible. What was going on? What environment was I in? How did the people I was with make me feel? If I had to describe myself in that moment, what would I say?

  • I tried to write my wedding vows from the perspective of my ideal partner. What would the person who sees and loves my most authentic self say about me? What would be the little quirks that they loved? The ways I brightened their day? The things they couldn’t live without?

I personally love lists, so after I did these exercises, I turned my answers into a list that that I saved on my phone. There’s something about putting things on paper that makes them real. And what’s great about keeping your answers is that you can always go back to them when you need reassurance.

I find, for myself, not having to come up with reasons why I’m worthy when I’m in a negative headspace helps a lot. Reading the list I already made helps me get out of my own head and reconnect to the qualities that make me my most authentic self.

2. Independence

For a long time, I thought independence meant not depending on other people. But that’s not really what it means.

Independence means being in charge of your own happiness. And taking responsibility for it. It comes from really knowing yourself, and being intentional about doing the things that fulfill you.

For me, finding independence came from untangling my self-worth from work. From challenging the narratives I’d been told about success and happiness. And from using my intuition to discover the life I really wanted to live.

One of the biggest things I had to unlearn in that process was thinking things like, “Having a successful startup makes me happy”. Or, “My ideal life is being married with two kids by 35”. I always thought having goals that you worked towards was a sign of your ambition. That being happy with anything less than the best meant that you were settling.

What I didn’t realize is that the issue wasn’t wanting or not wanting certain things. You can still want to be married and successful. I still do! But when you hinge your happiness on those things — on any external thing, for that matter — you give it power and control over your life.

When you say, “I’m happy as long as I’m doing well financially”, you become a slave to your bank balance. When you say, “I’m happy as long as I’m with this person”, you become a slave to your relationship. You start doing whatever it takes to get that one thing, and to keep it. And you lose sight of yourself in the process.

That’s what happened to me with work. I’d been so focused on “getting somewhere” with it for so long, that I honestly didn’t know who I was outside of it. My work was my identity, my interests, and my self-worth. When it was going well, I was happy. When it wasn’t, I felt like I had nothing.

What helped me break out of this pattern was changing my definition of “being happy”. Instead of focusing on the events that would make me happy, I started focusing on the activities that would make me happy.

For example, instead of saying, “In my ideal life, I’m a thought leader who does TED talks”, I’d say, “In my ideal life, my work lets me learn new things and share my knowledge with an audience”.

I wrote down all the things that were my dreams, everything that made up my ideal life — being rich, being famous, having a thriving family life. And I tried to get as granular and specific as possible. Instead of saying, “I want to be famous”, I’d try to break down what fame exactly meant. Am I a celebrity? An artist? An academic? Who’s my audience? Do I still have a private life? How do I use my fame? What do my days look like?

Breaking down my dreams in this way helped me recognize which parts of them were actually fulfilling to me. And which parts were coming from insecurity or a need for validation.

For example, with fame, I learned that what I really enjoy is being the centre of attention and performing for an audience (our Friend-Making Superpower Quiz helped me discover this!). But that I also wanted status and public recognition as a way to validate myself. That being a high performer was what I felt like I needed to do in order to be loved and accepted.

This changed my relationship with fame. It made me understand that chasing it just to feed my insecurities would never make me happy. It helped me recognize which of my desires supported my most authentic self. And it let me focus on those, by reframing them as activities I could do every day to create my own happiness.

3. Integrity

To me, integrity is simple — it means holding yourself accountable. And genuinely trying to be a good person.

“Being a good person” means something different to each one of us. Discovering what it means to you is an important part of connecting to your most authentic self. It’s what tells you what your values are. What kind of person you want to be. And what kind of people you want to let into your life.

I found for me, coming up with these values from thin air was difficult. Looking at generic definitions of “being good” — be kind to others, don’t lie etc. — made me roll my eyes. And asking other people seemed to lead nowhere.

I remember thinking being talkative was one of the worst possible traits, because my mom really hated it. But then I met Nina and found out it was one of her favourite qualities.

It took me a long time to separate the values that were actually important to me from the ones I’d internalized from other people.

What helped me do this was paying a lot of attention to how other people made me feel. What things did they do that upset me? What things did they do that made me happy?

This let me see how I actually liked to be treated. And what it felt like, for example, when someone talked a lot, or kept their promises. I could understand from how things felt which qualities were important to me, which ones bothered me, and which ones didn’t matter.

Once I knew how I liked to be treated, I made a commitment to myself to treat other people the same way. Even (and especially) when it wasn’t easy.

For example, I learned through one of my relationships that I really appreciate directness and honesty. Especially when it comes to saying no or setting a boundary. It lets me know where I stand with someone, and it shows me that they’re strong enough to say what they mean. It shows me that their words have weight, and that makes me trust them.

I personally had always been uncomfortable with saying no or setting boundaries. I didn’t want to disappoint people, and was worried about what they’d think of me. So I’d avoid difficult conversations, and make promises that I wouldn’t keep.

Seeing how good it felt when someone respected me enough to be honest with me, and how much I admired them for it, really made me want to change that. It definitely wasn’t easy. But doing it made me feel like I was holding myself to a higher standard.

And it raised my expectation of other people as well. It made it easy for me not to accept people who weren’t strong enough to do what I was doing. Or who didn’t want to hold themselves accountable in the same way.

Just by practicing the qualities that made me feel good, and refraining from the ones that made me feel bad, I started to understand what my true values are. And to attract the people who were aligned with me on them.

4. Openness

Openness is a difficult quality for me to define. That’s because it’s imbued with a lot of things — vulnerability, compassion, acceptance and non-judgment, curiosity.

Ultimately what I came to is this — openness is the act of allowing things to be. Of accepting them, and knowing that they’re valid. Just because they exist. It’s giving things the space to come out and show themselves to you. And treating them with compassion when they do.

For me, openness was a really difficult quality to cultivate.

I had learned to show some level of openness towards other people — to know that their experience was valid, even when it was different from mine. But I had never learned to show openness to myself.

I always had very strong ideas of who I should be. What I should do. How I should feel. And I spent most of my time cramming those ideas down my own throat. Anything in my experience that deviated from my “shoulds”, I rejected. Any emotion coming up that “didn’t make sense”, I repressed.

I wanted to be my best self. And I saw anything that didn’t fit into my definition of that as a weakness. As something that shouldn’t exist.

Real growth doesn’t work like that. As counterintuitive as it sounds, to really change, you need to be okay with where you’re at. You need to accept and acknowledge your feelings, especially when they don’t make sense. You need to work through them with curiosity and compassion. To sit with them if that’s what they need. And to be patient when they don’t go away.

When you deny a part of your experience, you deny the expression of your full, authentic self. And you keep it from growing.

What eventually helped me see that was going through changes that challenged everything I believed about myself and the world. When I had no more “shoulds” to turn to, I had no choice but to just be. And to see what came up when I let it.

👉 If you want to read more about how I learned to practice openness to connect to my most authentic self, check out my piece on learning to trust my intuition!

Bringing openness into my experience was an uncomfortable process. And it sometimes still is. But that’s what openness is about — learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. And allowing it to exist.

For me, cultivating openness comes down to practicing a few key habits:

  • Every time I have a thought about myself, I try to imagine how I would feel if my best friend said that about me. Would I think she’s a good friend? Or would I think she’s a toxic person in my life? This helps me practice self-compassion, and recognize when I’m being cruel to myself. It lets me develop a relationship and a friendship with myself. And gives me a way to forgive my own shortcomings the way I forgive them in others.

  • When I have uncomfortable emotions, instead of trying to fight them or justify them, I just sit with them. I sit, and breathe, and let myself feel them. I pay attention to my body and let any reactions or sensations I have pass. And instead of analyzing myself, I just try to watch with curiosity. Which parts of my body are firing? What emotions am I feeling? Where am I holding tension? Almost every time, just this act of sitting and watching gives my emotions the space to come up, release, and work themselves out.

  • If I make a mistake, or a decision I regret with hindsight, I try to remember why I made it, and what information I was working with at the time. It’s so easy for me to put myself down and judge myself based on all the things I “should have known”. But when I try to look at the reality of the situation, more often than not, I see that I was doing my best. That my intentions were good. And that I was making the best decision possible given everything I believed at the time. This helps me judge myself more fairly, and give myself credit where credit’s due. Even when the situation doesn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

Each of these habits gives me a way to love and accept myself in the moments when that’s hardest to do. They give me a way to see and embrace my full self. And to find the courage to share it with other people as well.

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Want more practical tips on how to be yourself? Check out Nina's article on 3 unusual ways to practice being yourself!

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