I believe that at the highest levels, performers and artists must be true to themselves. There can be no denial, no repression of true personality, or else the creation will be false — the performer will be alienated from his or her intuitive voice.
— The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin
The best professors I’ve had are those who are not afraid to be themselves.
They are unabashedly themselves. Rather than conform to some supposed vision of what it is to be a professor, they are authentically themselves. They are still professors — they still teach — but they do it in a way that is theirs. No one else could teach the way they do because the way they teach is inextricably bound up with who they are.
The worst professors I’ve had are those who are so generic as to be bad.
They are completely forgettable — even a semester or two after taking their course, it takes a few moments to remember their names. They teach in an artificial way — as if they were going through the motions, reading a script for a part. Almost like bad actors, and just as unwatchable. Utterly fungible. Replaceable. Anyone else could teach the way they do because they teach in a manner that doesn’t embrace their humanity.
This lesson is true beyond the classroom. The best companies are those that are not afraid to be themselves. These companies embrace their ethos, their culture and live it authentically. They achieve success not in spite of their culture but because of it. They’re not perfect (nothing mortals make is) but they know what they are about and where they’re going. They strive.
This lesson is true beyond business. The best marriages are those that are not afraid to be themselves. Husband and wife are and accept each other as they are and as they strive to be. A particular pairing wouldn’t work with anyone else because the two partners interlock in curious ways that make both of them better. They’re not perfect (no mortals are) but they know who they are and they know the bedrock of their love. They too know where they’re going. They strive.
This lesson is true for life. Live mindfully. Authentically. No one else can be like you. You have a unique span of experience, a unique path that’s shaped your personality and your intelligence. Only by drawing on everything that’s made you who are you can you become who you are meant to be. Strive.
This is not easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. But this is the path to meaning. To joy. To that deep satisfaction at a difficult job done well. To a life lived well.
Why live any other way?
Thanks to Kyle Grubman, Ewa Rabiej, Roman Rabiej, Erin Strong, and Neil Tambe for reading drafts of this.