courage to do you

Do You Have The Courage To “Do You”?

“What am I doing?
What am I doing?
Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m doing me, I’m doing me
I’m living life right now, man
And this what I’ma do ’til it’s over, ’til it’s over”

In 2010, rap artist Drake had teenagers and adults around the globe belting out three electrifying words from his hit song Over.

I’m doing me.

The lyrics seemed to amplify a sense of confidence in whomever sang along and also convince them, if even for a second, to walk their own way.

But experience shows that it’s not as easy to actually “do you” as it is to recite the words. 

What is “doing you”? 

Urban dictionary describes “doing you” as doing “what you feel is best for you.”  It is exercising individuality and independence. It is autonomous thinking that is not governed by others or culture. The act of “doing you” is listening to your gut, traveling your own road, and freeing yourself from expectation. It can be as simple as nerding out on anime or as complex as representing yourself in a way that defies convention.

When Lizzo celebrates, rather that suppresses, her plus-sized body, she is doing her.  When Sam Smith wore heels to the 2019 GQ Men Of The Year awards, he was doing him. When black girls and women rock their natural hair in conservative settings, they are doing them.

Acting in a way that supports your freedom and expresses your authenticity allows you to create an honest sense and acceptance of self. But, it gets complicated.

Why is “doing you” hard?

No matter how attractive walking a unique path may be, it’s difficult to do. Why? Because your brain is obsessed with social learning, which makes you sensitive to peer opinion and what mass culture tells you you need. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory poses that people learn from one another through observation, imitation and modeling. The good and bad news is that you’ve been learning societal rules, expectations, and norms since birth. That means those standards are embedded and encoded within you. To add to that, humans have survived because of our ability to band together. Group formation, dating back to early humans, has changed our psychology and compels us to go with the group.

It’s hard to “do you” when, as researcher Rob Henderson says, “you’re wired to use the decisions of others as a shortcut to navigate your life.” As understandable and unfortunate as it is, your brain is hard-wired to do … them.

How do you “do you”?

But, with some intention, effort, and tools of courage, you can talk your talk and walk your walk.

Doing you is not a single action, but rather a process, and it starts with understanding why you would want to invite scrutiny or tension from doing something that separates you from the group or bucks expectation. A worthy purpose is at the heart of any courageous decision, and its strength comes from internal motivation and alignment with values. The fear associated with standing out or standing up is too overwhelming to be overcome by a weak purpose.  If “doing you” involves elevating your voice about how you show up in the world or reinforcing your value of self-expression, you’re on your way to having a right purpose.  

In addition, you have to know you in order to “do you”. Knowledge is an important part of competence, which is an internal tool of courage. Knowing yourself comes from a blend of introspection and practice. The best way to practice “doing you” is by taking small actions repeated and consistently. Starting with small actions allow you to test out what “doing you” looks and feels like within low stakes environments. I’ll bet that Lizzo danced in a bikini in front of her bathroom mirror before she did it on Instagram. I’ll bet Sam Smith wore heels in his house before he did it on the red carpet.  

Building up your competence, in effect, helps you build up your confidence, which allows you to trust in your abilities. Researchers agree  that confidence is the primary factor in how long a person will persevere in the face of danger a challenge. And, a low level of confidence is a major block to courage even when the fear involved is justified and appropriate.That shows you how big and important this internal resource is. Building confidence, though, requires enduring discomfort that is an inherent part of the process of “doing you.” 

So, the next time Drake’s “Over” pops up on your Spotify playlist and you find yourself passionately singing along, check in with yourself to see if you are, in fact, “doing you”. 

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