Søren Kierkegaard: Why You Must Be Yourself

Chances are, the following quote speaks to you personally to some degree. Far too often we feel we can't be anything ourselves, but have to put on some kind of mask (the word "persona," by the way, comes from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask) to fit into society. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard saw this as a great tragedy. We'll look at what exactly he meant by this in a moment, but I'd like to briefly outline who he was in the first place and exactly what existentialism is. Just in case you haven't heard of him or aren't quite sure what is meant by existentialism.

The most common form of despair is not being who you are.

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard is considered one of the founders of existentialism. He lived from 1813 to 1855 and wrote texts about religion, Christianity, morality, ethics, psychology and philosophy of religion. In his writings he liked to use metaphors and irony. His work is mainly about how people should live their lives as individuals. In his opinion, it is important for people to make their own decisions and commitments.

In contrast to Friedrich Nietzsche, Kierkegaard (like Fyodor Dostoevsky) believed in God. Further still, he even saw himself as a believer.

What is existentialism?

The term existentialism, describes the idea that human existence serves no prescribed higher purpose. So, we do not come into the world with something already predetermined for us to do or achieve in life. Instead, we have the ultimate freedom to seek and ultimately choose our own meaning of life.

The meaning behind this quote

The quote may seem a bit strange at the beginning. After all, the existentialist approach says that we are completely free to choose who we want to be and what we want to do, isn't it?
Yes, exactly. But for this, it is essential that you make the decision of who or what you want to be on your own. Without influence from the outside. Not by family, friends or social circumstances in general. But we should also not be influenced by economic factors.

Each of us knows what an enormously difficult claim this is. Many even argue that this is not possible at all, because we are always influenced to some degree from outside (called "extrinsic" in psychology). And this is probably even true.

So, if it is not possible for you to make yourself completely free from your external influences, the best possible thing you can do is to as free as possible of extrinsic factors - and then decide who or what you want to be.

Since there are in principle no fixed specifications in existentialism (which can lead to problems, as you will learn here), you have the possibility to freely invent yourself at any time.

But this also allows you to again and again to reinvent and thus to exploit the potential of life as best as it can. Thus, existentialism prevents being subject to self-imposed limitations, which according to Sartre is called "mauvaise foi" was designated and literally with "bad faith" would have to be translated.
What is meant here is a kind of self-deception through which people evade the question of who they are themselves. For this kind of self-deception, social roles are typically assumed and often absolutized, whereby we believe to be only this role.

In the book Being and Nothingness Sartre cites a waiter as an example, who has taken on the role of a waiter in such a way that he himself believes he is nothing else - even if he is not aware of it.

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The problem of not being yourself

It probably makes sense to you why not being yourself is a problem. And we have already explained why it is a problem from an existentialist point of view, but we want to briefly state here what it can mean for you not to be yourself:

Not being yourself means that you are not living by your own values, beliefs, and standards, but by someone else's. You may have adopted the values of others because you were taught to or because you believe it is the right thing to do. But if you don't live by your own values, you are not being true to yourself. You are living a lie.

Not being yourself also means that you are not authentic. You may be putting up a front and pretending to be someone you are not. Or you may be constantly trying to please others instead of doing what makes you happy. If you're not authentic, you're not living your life truthfully and you're holding up a unique individual to the world.

Not being yourself can also lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. If you don't live by your own values and standards, you're likely to feel frustrated and unhappy. You may feel like you're not good enough or not doing what you should be doing. And that can lead to all kinds of negative feelings, like anxiety, depression, and resentment.

So not being yourself is a problem because it can lead to a lack of authenticity, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. But how can you be yourself? How can you live according to your own values and standards?

The first step is to become aware of who you are and what you stand for. What are your values? What do you believe in? What are your standards? Once you have answered these questions, you can start living by them. You can start being authentic and true to yourself.

Of course, even though it's easy, it's not easy. It can be difficult to go against the grain and swim against the tide. But it is possible. And it's worth it. Because when you are yourself, you live a life of authenticity, truth and contentment.

And since our blog is all about figuring out how to live, we invite you to stay as long as you like 🙂 .

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