What if You Already Are Your Best Self?
08.10.17
Collage by Emily Zirimis

When writer Heather Havrilesky was on the Longform Postcast in March of 2016, she said something during the last 60 seconds of the recording that made me pause, rewind and take notes. I’ll never forget it.

“Okay, last question,” Max Linsky said, “You have a book coming out in July. It’s called How to Be a Person in the World. The last question is — and remember this is the speed round — how do you be a person in the world?”

“You’ve got to lean way in to what you already are,” Heather said. “Lean way the fuck in… look right at the worst — the so-called worst — things about yourself and figure out how to celebrate those things.”

You might know Heather as the brains behind New York Magazine’s advice column Ask Polly or her hilarious Twitter or any of the other genius writing she’s done. But you might not know her career is defined by the very things she always detested: being emotional, being vulnerable, being an advice-giver, being “soft,” and being all of that in public.

“[W]hen you look at yourself and you say, ‘Oh god forbid that this one part of me ever shows’… You can only see it because it keeps showing. It keeps showing! It wants to be shown. Lean into that and your path becomes — I’m not going to say free of obstacles, it’s never fucking free of obstacles but… it becomes a little clearer.”

“That’s good advice,” Max said.

“I’m really fucking good at this Max, I’m telling you!” she laughed.

Her words stuck out to me because they rang true for my own experience coming into myself, but also because of a conversation I’d recently had with a friend. He confessed that he was envious of people who had in-depth knowledge about something very specific, whereas he merely had a surface-level understanding of a bunch of different things. He’d been unfocused his whole life, he said. He felt he had so little to offer as a result. Hearing him say that almost physically pained me, because his wide breadth of random knowledge is one of my very favorite things about him. He’s so interesting to hang out with, so game to talk about anything and constantly surprising me with new bits of information he’s picked up.

Lean way the fuck into who you already are. It’s the perfect, healing mantra for a self-improvement and comparison-obsessed culture. What if you already are your best self? What if the only thing standing between you and a more comfortable existence was accepting that? What would happen if you leaned into the very thing you were always afraid you were?

Today, my question for you is: What’s the thing you’re most afraid you are? What would happen if you celebrated that?

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  • Micah Lpez

    In our truest essence, we are presently the best version of yourselves. We can’t summarize or excuse our past selves and we can’t certainly predict( at least accurately) our future self. Personally, I feel that we’re constantly evolving and becoming different versions of ourselves, our fears evolve and the things we find dear seem to as well. We can’t change if we don’t become hyper aware of the things we fear and why we fear them.

    Sidenote: You’ve been cranking out some amazing content this summer Haley !!!

    • Bea

      On the sidenote: Yes Haley!! I might go as far as saying that you’re my fave at MR!

  • Pterodactyl111

    Love this. We can always strive to be better, but perfection does not exist!!!

  • Kacie Medeiros

    I know i am bad with money.. it plagues me all the time. I read the advice columns, i got a second job and still feel racked with guilt. My other thing would be my constant enjoyment of pop culture (podcast, tv, movies) I again get that guilty feeling that i should be doing more.

  • amcrni

    I’m afraid I’m still cripplingly shy. When you’re told from a young age by teachers and peers that you’re so quiet, that you never talk, that you need to speak up… you internalize it, even if it’s not fully true. I feel my full self only around certain people. In a work environment, I change. I get a little more timid, I just kind of turn in on myself. I’ve always hated it and know I have a major personality hiding behind my quiet facade. Sometimes I think it deters me, but it also makes me wildly observational. At 29, I’m no closer to figuring out how to burst out of it. But sometimes I don’t know why I’d want to. I’ve gotten by so far with a great family, a wonderful fiance and some good friends.

    • Adrianna

      I was always labeled shy because I’m very quiet and introverted. I don’t have social anxiety talking to coworkers and strangers, I just don’t want to. (I’ll add that working in retail in Manhattan for four years helped me learn how to talk to anyone.) I don’t like parties or activities with large groups of people, because I find the interactions draining and inauthentic. I’ve never been part of a large clique of friends, but the friendships I have had were or are very meaningful.

      We’re essentially the same age (I’m 28), and I think I’ve kind of just embraced it. I just flat out tell people that I’m quiet and anti-social with enough confidence to signal that there is nothing wrong with that.

      • Willa Konefał Davis

        I feel similarly to you two. I really enjoy friendships, but I’ve always preferred to be on my own instead of part of a group, relishing opportunities to break away and do my own thing! Which, is why this era of the “squad” makes me question whether I’m weird/normal, even more.

        • Adrianna

          nie jesteś dziwna!!

          • Willa Konefał Davis

            dzięki 😀

      • Kiks

        “I find the interactions draining and inauthentic.”

        You explained this so well. I speak when I have something to say, but our North American culture of constantly having to be chattering, asking inane questions, making small talk — I just have no use for it. I have also spent years working as a server, a receptionist, in retail, and now a pharmacy where I am surrounded by colleagues and patients all day. I’m highly empathetic and very good at communicating with my patients, and I’m not shy. I just prefer to speak only if there’s something meaningful to be achieved by it.

      • jillygirl

        …because I find the interactions draining and inauthentic

        Just bring YOUR self to the conversation – it’s only the way it is because you refuse to have the courage to share your Self. Which is desperately needed if anything is going to shift. Anyway, here’s a good link to help get started:

        https://www.fastcompany.com/40441365/do-these-5-emotionally-intelligent-things-within-5-minutes-of-meeting-someone

        • Adrianna

          lol I still think all that cocktail party shit is fake. I’d much rather sit down with one person over coffee

    • Miciah

      Well then there’s no way I’d feel bad

    • pennyjenny

      ARE YOU ME???

    • “I feel my full self only around certain people.”

      No one “crippled” could write this. This is a statement of higher consciousness. This is true for absolutely everyone. I am convinced. Only? Too many have allowed themselves to become so accustomed to less authentic company that they no longer notice, let alone problematize this unhealthy dynamic in relating. Not enough, at least, to even articulate: “I feel my full self only around certain people.” You GET that. And that makes your fellowship not one of quantity but quality. Being a “full self” means revealing our vulnerabilities. That requires trust to be “fully” received and experiencing that kind of sincerity requires being selective.

      Raising a glass to your “full self” as the only one you bring to the intimate dinner party.

  • Adrianna

    One of the most validating things I’ve read was my Myer Briggs results. (INFJ). It was like someone articulated my weird personality quirks, such as why I’m not inclined to make small talk with a barista. Not pointing out that I don’t make small talk, but why. I instantly felt less insane.

    • Sarah

      I’m INFJ and I feel the exact same way any time I go to a coffee shop or a retail store

    • Katrina Elizabeth

      I’m INFJ and I find that I wouldn’t mind making small talk, but I’m constantly blown away at how BAD I AM at it. Someone will ask me a question and I literally don’t even think to ask the same question back until I’ve walked away. I operate on this weird assumption that people should just tell me how their weekend was, not that I should have to ask them. It’s problematic as that appears to be how conversations work…

      • Adrianna

        I’ve gotten better with all that as I’ve gotten older

    • Natalie L Howlett

      YES I hate when people tell me that personality tests don’t really mean anything, because they really help me make sense of why I do things and how my quirks can help me find my place in the world.

      • Adrianna

        Myer Briggs is also a lengthy test based solely on your answers

    • Jay

      I was shocked when the test came out ENFJ – would have considered myself totally INFJ – but yeah, I let it sink and it reasonated kind of – nowadays consider myself introverted extrovert – so the perfect unicorn… But I totally agree that it’s a really good experience seeing and understanding your own patterns – like why you act a certain way.
      For me, I have just figured how much down time I need to be able to get “out there” and am working on making that be accepted. Problem: It’s not very much accepted as I feel all the time people want you to be social and communicate and present yourself well… but what if I just sometimes don’t?T

  • Matt Little

    I just want you to know that when I saw this headline my first thought was “I hope it’s from Haley” before getting to the byline. You pose an insightful and terrifyingly simple question, Nahman

  • I may have found my new philosophy. It’s a good mentality to adopt at any rate.

  • CeeEm

    I love Ask Polly so much. Her advice consistently makes me feel less alone in the world. I do sorta miss when it was on The Awl because I feel like the commenters on there were a bit kinder. Also, I highly recommend Heather’s memoir Disaster Preparedness!

    • Kiks

      The comments on Ask Polly are so awful!

      I have a ton of screenshots of paragraphs from her columns of things that I need to remind myself over and over again.

  • AG

    Slight tangent from the purpose of this beautiful article. Did anyone else used to read the blog East Side Bride?! (the tagline was “an evil club of mean hipster brides”) I was obsessed way before I was even in a relationship, more obsessed when planning a wedding and then, when it all fell apart I decided I wanted her no-nonsense opinion and wrote in (http://www.eastsidebride.com/2013/12/the-engagement-is-off.html). If you like Ask Polly, then read through the “Dear ESB” posts too.

    • Kiks

      Oh man I have never heard of this before. It sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the evening activity!

  • Michaela Herrmann

    Your writing has been extra-resonant for me lately – thanks for making me stretch my brain!

    • Natalie L Howlett

      I was just thinking the exact same thing- almost every article Haley has posted recently has really struck a chord with me!

  • Beth

    Compelling concept that I really want to believe. But when I apply it to myself, the parts of me I am most afraid of are hard to spin into strengths or positives. There are many things about my dad that I don’t admire: his abuse of alcohol, how motivated he is by his ego and by external praise (he reminds me of our prez in that way, ha), While in many ways I am not like him at all, I am afraid that somewhere deep down I have inherited these qualities and that without my careful monitoring, they will pop up and show through as my true colors. As a result I am constantly checking myself, which to your point, leaves me feeling uptight and inauthentic. I guess it comes down to trusting oneself.

    • Erm … it seems to me what you describe is a narcissist Dad. I think children of such people may be both: showing some attitudes that belong into the bracket ‘Narcissism’ (logically, since this is what you learn) and at the same time hating that crazy stuff, knowing very well how bad it can be. My suggestion would be to accept that everyone of us is a Narcissist to some degree (even without such relatives), but also that this state of mind can vary according to our situation and personality and that knowing all about it and needing to be as different as reasonable is good enough. No need to erase the Dad from your personality, it is enough to be your best self. There are many, many children out there sharing the same inner war and it is a legitimate one.

    • Ana

      Hey Beth, maybe you can figure out a way of using the qualities that scare you for a good purpose? I’ve been struggling with similar issues, i.e. a fear of innate selfishness and need of validation, enjoying attention too much (and inherent laziness) – but I think they also helped me with the jobs I enjoyed most. My prime example being teaching – I loved, loved, loved to teach and the fact that I enjoyed being out there in the front of the class, instead of dreading the attention was, I think and hope, beneficial to all parties involved. (I know a lot of people who dread teaching and although some rise to the challenge magnificently, a lot of them – and their students – would be better off just doing research.) Bottom line: I’m sure you will find a way of finding a cause that will allow to put both the qualities you love and loathe to good use!

      • Beth

        Great example – thanks, Anna! It’s encouraging that you’ve found a way to use those qualities to enhance rather than hinder you. I bet you make an amazing teacher 🙂

  • Fran

    Omg Haley—this is the first time I have commented on a Man Repeller post even though I visit the site daily, but I have to tell you that your content has been so incredibly excellent lately. Your last post about solving feelings put a finger on something I’ve been struggling with for a long time. This post is a natural evolution of that last one. Thank you for putting this thoughtful and hard content out there! I leave you with the song that has done the same for me that these posts have: Keep Doing What You Do / Jerks on the Loose by the Roches https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KLFR4_oZXY

  • Annabel

    I get so excited when I spot a post by Haley !

  • Louise

    I love your posts Haley, they’re like the most un-clickbait in narrative essays–reflective, allowing people to accept and forgive themselves. It’s so refreshing compared to internet content these days. Thanks!

  • Jenny

    I’m most afraid that I really am Lazy and will never accomplish what I want to do. I’m not sure that’s something I want to lean into. But I love this idea as there are other parts of myself that I have come to celebrate in the last few years such as strongly preferring small group gatherings – that allows me to focus on listening and having deeper conversations. Or totally loving evaluations of color. My husband and friends may not get it but I love that I notice the color of the air and how that affects mood.

    • Katrina Elizabeth

      Sometimes creativity is born out of laziness, like how can I do this thing while avoiding that? It’s how innovations happen, baby.

  • Diana McNeill

    I’m scared that the thing I’m the best at is being a REALLY REALLY good friend to EVERYONE. It’s a full time job that doesn’t pay very much money…

  • Lizz DeFeo

    This is a great post! Thanks so much. I am blunt and speak my mind, to the point where mouths drop at times. Too often, I try to hide that side of me away. I have been slowly trying to embrace that I am who I am, in doses. Baby steps, amiright? Thank you Haley, love your work!

  • Jdjd

    I’m afraid that I am selfish and self centered. Idk if this is true tho!!

  • tmm16

    I don’t think I’m my best self, but I’m only 23, and I don’t want to peak yet, but I can definitely see myself becoming better. In the last year, I’ve developed more professionally, acquired more self confidence, and pushed myself to do something I’ve always wanted to do (Move to NYC!) so while I wouldn’t say I am my best self, yet, I’m definitely on my way there.

  • Natalie L Howlett

    I’m afraid that I’m boring. But why? Because I’m a hard worker, because I (usually) follow the rules, because I like to stay in. But obviously those things are good- I’m very successful in school and people trust me to do the right thing. But as a college student, it’s really easy to feel like I’m missing out on things, and that people see me as a goody-two-shoes, when I’m FUN I’m just also an introvert who needs her eight hours of sleep. Part of the problem is I care a lot about what other people think, but I hope I’ll grow out of that?

    • Introverts are the least boring people because we are stimulated most by the originality of our own thoughts. What and who is boring is the herd mentality. Please don’t fear what may very well be your strength. And in those quiet moments, removed from all the chatter, may you come up with an idea so clever and conscious-raising that you will be forced to share yourself with the world to make it better.

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-introverts/

  • Harville Hendrix wrote the couples manual: GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT, highlighting Imago Relationship Therapy, published in 1988. I was introduced by an Oprah episode. Yes, I am of the age where tweets and blogs have spurred less personal epiphanies than the best of Oprah – long before OWN Sundays. IMT – as my cursory understanding can try to express, allows couples to mirror each other in the belief that relationships are really about ‘wound-healing’ from our childhood. Perhaps certain illusions attract us initially, but authentic bonding, according to Hendrix, occurs when we truly ‘meet’ each other – right at/in those wounds. Hendrix argues that whatever wounds may have resulted from our primary care-givers, we seek to solve or heal in adult partnership. If there is any merit to this, it speaks to the depth of our insular wisdom. Perhaps we each possess some subconscious antenna where this karmic opportunity to at least attempt to address invisible wounds is as enticing as spotting six-pack abs.

    I say the most crucial relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Let not the mirror be solely another. Let it be chiefly ourselves. “Wound? I see you. And it’s just you and me, baby. I hear you reaching out – despite yourself. Sexy, you are a wonder!”

  • Fiona

    Annoyingly enough, I had a similar conversation with a friend recently. He asked if I’d considered my greatest flaws to be my strengths. These simple revelations are so profound. It’s like Byron Katie’s The Work. The turnarounds are key. Great article Haley

  • spicyearlgrey

    @MR can u pls do a story on confident people who used to be shy, and how they broke out of their shell? i wanna but i dunno how

    • Lizlemon

      Dali was allegedly a very shy guy but he wanted to be more extroverted. So he started to act like a confident eccentric till it became natural. Fake it till you make it is the take away I guess.

      • spicyearlgrey

        would love to know more stories like this but from people more relatable than salvador dali lmao

        • Daisy Tinker

          My boyf used to feel very shy when meeting new people or in group situations, which had begun to bother him more and more (as he got older there are just more of these kinda situations he felt he was having to deal with like starting a new job etc). One weekend we both just sat down together and read the book How To Start A Conversation and Make Friends. Super cringe, and I really didn’t think a book would help, but he definitely found it useful 🙂 <3

  • Lil

    Yes! The only thing to fear is fear itself. So when those ugly thoughts come crawling in your head at 3pm (post lunch and pre happy hour) don’t count on a draft beer to save you after clocking out.

    I so agree with acknowledging your faults and flaws because as humans it’s so inevitable that we will make mistakes and cause damage to ourselves and others. The least we can do is minimize said damage by being more self aware. Then you can live contently by knowing that at least you’re trying.

    And I swear it that most of us live blindly and unaware of it.

  • Ditte Zach

    I’m needy… For people’s attention, admiration, approval, love…
    So embarrassing, and quite counterproductive since most people are repelled by neediness

    • Daisy Tinker

      I second this! I’ve found it helps to be very honest with a few really close friends/family members about how much love and attention you actually need to make you happy, and most of the time they’re happy to oblige (as long as you repay their love and kindness and compliments!) x

    • Mandy

      I’m totally needy. I always have been. In college, one of my closest friends (we spent tons of time together, naturally) made me a cup of coffee, sat me down and said, “You’re needy. You need to know this about yourself and start dating guys who are cool with it.” My friends were/are cool with it, and my husband is cool with it. I
      “Needy” sounds bad, but with the right people, it’s not bad. I’m cuddly and love to spend time with people I love, and the wonderful people I’ve kept around me accept that and feel loved and wanted. In this context, it’s a strength.

  • Bo

    Well mostly I’m pretty great, but my first response to this question was “I’m afraid I’m useless”, which is absurdly broad and nonsensical in an answer; I did a bit of soul-searching and think my proper answer is “I’m afraid I can’t help enough”. I feel constantly compelled to fix things; problems are there to be solved and I can’t not tackle them. I literally can’t stop myself from giving them a go. This is advantageous as it means I am consistently productive at my work, am committed to buying/making people the perfect birthday/christmas present 100% of the time, I always go for the hardest recipe in the cookbook and if I fail, will redo or rewrite it until it works. The flip side of this is that I think I need to tackle EVERY problem I encounter – I end up taking on other peoples’ workloads to make sure the job gets done (lol welcome to public health), I want to make other people feel good when their down times are completely beyond my control (cue me forcing endless gifts upon my sister after she had a miscarriage and really just wanted a hug and someone to listen), if my grilled fennel isn’t exactly as I wanted I spend the whole mealtime apologising to the table for my failure.
    Reading all of that back I can see how myopic it is for me to approach like that. The world doesn’t revolve around me, nor should it, and my own personal world isn’t completely dependent on what I do alone with no other factors having an impact. Everyone is capable of doing great things, but nobody alone is responsible for doing all great things. I suppose my version of leaning in is to not stop trying to help, because to help people is a wonderful ability bestowed upon us all, but to be content with the amount I can do and support others in wishing to do the same.

  • Ooooh this is a great article. I’ve been feeling a bit shit about myself due to feedback from a couple of interviews recently, saying my personality was too jovial/ wrong fit for the team/I didn’t take the interview seriously enough. Some of this might be perfectly valid but I was thinking I’m too brash and loud and grew aware of talking too much, second guessing myself. Now I’ve realised the jobs were totally the wrong fit and I’d have hated them anyway. I need to lean into those traits and go somewhere more ‘jovial’ and relaxed!

  • Emily

    This is a weird one but I’m actually scared that I’m not very nice.
    My style of giving advice has always been honest rather than saying what someone wants to hear- e.g if you send me a picture of an outfit you are considering i will tell you what i genuinely think of it. This has lead to an ongoing joke about me being the bitch/ the blunt one of the friendship group, which I can laugh at but I wish it wasn’t my permanent label because I feel like I don’t want to wear that jacket at all times, but now I feel if I take on any other role my friends don’t see it as genuine- I think they think they can see beneath what I’m saying to some kind of ‘blunt’ thoughts I have that I’m just not sharing- not the case.

    Separately from this I’m also very introvert when i first meet people which can lead me to seem really stand offish even when I’m not intentionally trying to be, i just don’t know how to make friends with new people and I’m shitty at faking it. There are also jokes about this- ‘you’ll like Emily once you get to know her’ which makes me feel even less inclined to open myself up to new people. My friends have no problems introducing themselves to new people which makes me feel kind of like I must be broken???

    The combination of these things and other parts of my personality kind of make me question if I’m actually a bit of a shit person. I definitely don’t wanna lean in to that.

    • Bmo

      This hit me right in the heart! I feel the exact same way and I’ve also felt labeled like that by my friend group.

      I’ve been struggling with similar feelings, and all I can say is: Emily, you are not a shit person. Your friends may joke about your bluntness but they wouldn’t be your friends if they didn’t love and appreciate you!

      I also overthink everything (aka I have NO chill) and I’ve been trying really hard to believe what my friends tell me (that they love me, want to be my friend, etc) and not what my anxiety is telling me (they think I’m a bitch, they think I’m faking when I’m nice, etc).

      Just wanted to say, I feel you!!

    • Jules

      I feel this so strongly 🙁 I feel like at my core, I’m not a nice person, and I would love to be genuinely sweet towards all people! I am also extremely honest/blunt AND so introverted
      something that helped me was just reframing my mind to see everything in a positive light which made me more open and less judgemental (not saying that you’re judgemental, but that was one of my not so nice qualities/issues that made my honesty seem a bit harsh)
      faking positivity and love and openness until I made it my reality honestly helped
      kind of like that feeling when you’re around people who only want to gossip about others, and you have to keep rerouting the convo towards something more positive, to avoid as much toxicity as possible.. that’s how I feel in my own mind sometimes

      anyways I feel like I went off on a weird tangent that doesn’t really relate to your situation but I just wanted to share

  • I have no fricken’ idea – but it’s scary and amusing to think about it.

  • I think I’m most afraid that I’m actually really sensitive. I used to be resilient and easy going, so things never bothered me. But lately I feel as though all those years of suppressing emotions and feelings are catching up, and that I’m more sensitive and emotional now. Thankfully, my wonderful boyfriend helps me to accept these emotions and reassures me that it’s okay to be sad, happy, angry, etc., but I’m still working on it I guess.

  • juliuslv

    As a shy introvert (with extrovert tendencies), I have a bunch of problems which have already been discussed by the other commenters here but the one thing that I’m afraid of, currently, is the thought that maybe I have a boring personality which is affecting my dating life. I can go on and on about the anxieties and frustrations with dating in the year 2017 with tindering/ghosting/playing games etc. but it really annoys me that I can’t seem to secure a 4th, 5th, 6th etc. date with someone. It’s like they find out I’m unappealing to them gradually as we hang out more and more until I no longer hear from them. It eats at my self-esteem in little hard pecks. Even when I try to approach these situations as FWB/casual sex, I still have the same issue and THAT’S even more crushing (who turns down consensual free sex?!).

  • nevvvvave

    The thing about myself that I’m most afraid of is that deep down, i’m too judgemental/critical of myself and of others to ever fully let go of my neuroticisms and make meaningful connections! “lol” For me, “embracing” it just means understanding that part of my personality.

  • Shevaun

    I’m afraid I’m flaky. I’m into lots of stuff but it feels really surface, like the friend you mentioned Haley. I’m into science and art and writing and reading and drawing and physical activities but I feel like I never dig deep into any of them so I’m just sort of a hodgepodge. I feel less driven than a lot of my peers which can make me feel sort of stupid/less accomplished.

    Also tho I have like HELLA imposter syndrome so I know that a lot of it is just my brain being crazy and self-sabatogey.

  • Ciccollina

    LOVE THIS. Goodbye.

  • Ji Min Yang

    This article means so much to me. Thank you, Haley, for writing this post.

  • Oh man. Such a good concept. Sometimes in the morning when I’m staring at my face brushing my teeth, I think “This is the best I’ll get.” Because the pressure to “LIVE” in your 20’s, and “look the best you ever will”, but also “eat everything cause you can” is so thick. I read just as many “how to let go and worry less” articles as I do “how to keep your whole life in excel sheets.”

    I think I’m afraid of wasting this era. But maybe that’s part of the self discovery that happens? Maybe it’s part of the rite of passage..?

  • Ashley Kilback

    Yes, yes, yes. I’ve been learning to become more self aware of my A type personality – both the good and the bad. This post was such a good reminder to embrace every part of you because that’s all part of the growth process. Thanks for sharing, Haley!

  • Meghan

    I think the hardest part of this is inwardly looking to actually figure out what you need to “lean in” to. Do I not know because I don’t give myself the time to sit and ask these hard questions? Even if I did, I’m not sure I would have an answer. Don’t mind me walking in circles over here.