My kids taught me an expression that I absolutely love.
I love the freedom it gives to the person to keep on doing whatever weird thing it is that caught the speaker’s attention in the first place.
For example: [Looking up from cell phone.] “What’s that you’re doing, Mom?”
Me: “Trying to get my leg behind my head.”
[Perplexed look. Pause. Smile and shrug.] “You do you.” [Looks happily back at cell phone.]
In the same moment, we could have changed roles and the conversation could have gone precisely the same way.
For example: [Looks up from yoga mat.] “What’s that you’re doing, buddy?”
My son: “Trying to catch this super rare Pokemon. It’s a fire type and it evolves into the coolest forms with super high attack stats.”
[Perplexed look. Pause. Smile and shrug.] “You do you.” [Happily returns to trying to put her leg behind her head.]
Happily coexisting. Respectful of the others’ interests even though they are not shared. Leaving the other to be just as purely themselves as you are being. (Imagine if the world was more like this.)
Back when I was growing up (creak, creak, creak), it was more typical for someone to get mocked for not fitting in, for not being “normal,” for (to quote my parents) “dancing to the beat of their own drum.” To witness teens giving one another the space to be themselves is almost breathtaking. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think this radical acceptance is pandemic. In fact, I watch just enough of the news to know it’s something we still really need to work on. But I have to believe the fact that it has become part of teen slang is a step in the right direction.
Being yourself evolves over the course of your lifetime. At my kids’ ages, it’s perfectly normal to be trying on personas. “The good girl.” “The partier.” “The jock.” “The A student.” “The hyper crazy pal.” “The laid back, mellow kid.” “The nice guy.” In fact, several may fit so well, that we comfortably flip back and forth between them depending on what we’re doing, where we are and who we’re with. By the time we’re well into our twenties, however, we typically have a pretty good handle on our personality type.
But as we age and grow, we can start to feel a little boxed in by the labels we’ve applied to ourselves. Maybe we find ourselves suddenly interested in painting, or teaching or flying remote control airplanes. Our job at this point is to say to ourselves (with the same smile and shrug that my son and I gave one another), “You do you.” and then sit back to see what happens.
Because it doesn’t matter if what we try sticks. It doesn’t matter if it becomes part of who we are or a brief detour on the way to being who we are. Allowing ourselves the freedom to follow the impulse to try is the point. This is how we learn what we like, what we don’t like, what makes our hearts race a little, what makes us crazy excited, what lights us up. This type of exploring is exactly how to figure out how to “Do you.”
If we’re so worried about what our friends will think, or whether we’ll be awful at it, or whether we’ll be able to explain it to our kids, we’ll be as limiting to ourselves as those mocking teens I mentioned above could be. We need to be more like teens today – saying consistently to ourselves, in an empowering, encouraging, respectful, happy tone, “You do you.” And then get right down to the business of doing so. (Don’t forget to encourage the people in your life to do exactly the same thing.)
Repeat after me. “You do you…”