“Just be yourself.” Sounds good. If only it were that simple. In every career I’ve held – especially my current one as a yoga teacher – well-meaning colleagues and mentors have reminded me to be myself. And I’ve doled out the advice too – encouraging newer teachers to be themselves. But how?
It feels so good to hear it. To say it. Sort of like a permission slip to stop planning everything out and have fun in whatever task is at hand. Or to comfort a nervous pal who’s been pacing in circles over their first big gig.
But honestly we need a part two. A how-to. The mentors in my life who have followed up a just be yourself with a how-to are the ones who’ve helped me the most. A vice president of marketing I once worked under followed up the just be yourself advice with suggesting I rewrite an entire speech I had drafted into short bullet points I could refer to instead of looking down and reading a long-winded narrative she knew no one would pay attention to after 30 seconds. That advice allowed me to make eye contact with the attendees, sprinkle in anecdotes that felt appropriate in the moment, and tap into the energy of the room. It allowed me to be myself.
A yoga mentor patiently got on her mat and spent an hour moving to my words, listening for when I wasn’t being myself. In addition to encouraging me to be myself, she stopped me several times within the sequence and called me out when it sounded scripted or like something I would never say in normal conversation. “Find another way to say it, Shannon…” And I did. On the spot. And it allowed me to be myself.
I’ve been teaching consistently for almost two years, and work my ass-ana off to teach in a way that is authentic to me, but it’s tough. All the training we do is a double-edged sword, really. We gain critical alignment skills, pacing techniques and inspiration, but too much of that can lead even the most confident teachers into the trap of mimicking the voices of others without finding their own.
So next time I’m tempted to say just be yourself, I’ll follow it up with a how-to.