This essay first appeared in This Singaporean Life (subscribe!), a newsletter I sent out every Sunday (SGT) where I share my weekly musings on work and life in Singapore.
I was having a chat with a friend the other day, and he asked an interesting question worth pondering over.
“Am I still me if I behave differently to fit the situation?”
Well, I think we all behave differently in almost every setting.
The way we behave in front of our parents might not be the same as how we behave in front of our colleagues; how we behave in front of our spouse/partner will definitely be different from everyone else too.
But there’s so much talk about being “yourself” or “authentic” or “true to yourself and your values”. If I’m behaving differently when I’m with different people and in different situations, am I still me? Am I faking who I really am?
I’m not a psychologist or profiler. I did some thinking on my own, though. Because it’s indeed a question most, if not all of us, will ask at some point or many points in our lives and therefore, worth exploring.
The first question we should ask ourselves when reflecting on our behaviour, I think, should be, “Am I comfortable and happy?”
The next would then be, “Am I hurting anyone – directly and indirectly?”
If the answers to both questions are “no”, then I’m still me – I’m not faking who I am.
I think we should look at our personalities as a group of traits that overlap with one another. In other words, it’s impossible to only behave in one consistent way throughout our lives.
Let’s look at it this way: If I were to ask all my friends who have at least interacted with me enough to form an impression or memory of who I am, the answers I get back would be very different.
That’s because even if I were to spend the conscious effort to be consistent with the personality I want to portray, how others look at me will depend very much on how they make sense of who I am.
For example, a simple gesture at the dining table where I pull out a chair for a female friend could send very different ideas to everyone who witnesses that action.
Some might think I’m trying to hit on my female friend or I’m just a gentleman (which I am, *cough*) or it’s just how I was brought up, and it came naturally to me.
The key here is asking the two questions mentioned earlier, “Am I comfortable and happy with my action?” and, “Am I indirectly or even directly hurting someone?”
Here’s another example I think everyone can relate to.
It doesn’t mean a social butterfly can’t retreat into a quiet corner in an indie cafe with only soothing music as a companion.
Likewise, a wallflower could spontaneously crave for a party with a huge group of friends while sharing Instagram stories of his or her good time.
I don’t think our personalities are inflexible (I must be either be an A-type person or a B-type person). No, we shouldn’t have to restrict ourselves to only certain behaviour.
After all, we all need to adapt accordingly to the different situations we face in everyday life to thrive socially and professionally.
Introversion is no longer an acceptable excuse in the workplace. Every professional will have to interact with other people face-to-face or through video, at the very least.
Instead of worrying about how you portray yourself, think about these two questions:
- Am I happy and comfortable with what I’m doing?
- Am I hurting anyone directly or indirectly?
So long as your actions align with the values and standards you uphold dearly, and you’re not harming anyone, you don’t have to worry about your behaviour.