What Mister Rogers Taught Us: How to Radically Be Ourselves
June 6, 2018
Many of us wake up each morning and jump into our boxes. We think, "How can I be the best professional/creative/parent/etc. today?” Then, we try to fit what we think that label means.
We hide our quirks.
Undo our uniqueness.
Aim to fit in.
But what if there was another way? What if we could radically embrace who we are—the person we’ve been since our childhood?
One of the biggest proponents of this message, and arguably one of the biggest self-love underdogs of our time, asked the world to do just that.
I’m talking about Fred Rogers, the star of the children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
If you grew up watching Mister Rogers, you might still be able to picture him: walking in the door. Singing a little song. Asking, "Won't you be my neighbor?"
When his show debuted in the '60s, the program and, well, Mister Rogers himself didn't fit the mold of successful TV. He was an older, kind man, chatting with his neighborhood pals, putting on a sweater or tying up his shoes, and, yes, sometimes having a heart-to-heart with a puppet.
He did his own thing—and that was the whole mission and message of his show: You can be liked and loved, just as you are. For the way you look, the way you talk, the way you love, and everything in between.
Now, more than ever, Mister Rogers’ mission is easier said (or, in his style, sung) than done. How do we love ourselves fully when we’re constantly bombarded with ideas on how we should look, talk, and love? How do we radically be ourselves?
The new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (in theaters June 8), goes deep into the vision of Fred Rogers—and it offers insight into how he stayed true to himself.
Here, a few tips straight from the most authentic man on TV:
1. Rock Your Quirk
Love cats? Can’t stop talking about productivity? Obsessed with helping other people—friends or strangers? It's time to attack your passions with the full force of your enthusiasm.
Mister Rogers knew that the way he talked to children—as smart individuals with emotions that deserve to be heard and valued—was different, but he didn’t care. He stuck to what he believed in and changed an entire generation as a result.
Mister Rogers stuck to what he believed in—and changed an entire generation as a result.
Think about what makes you different from your friends or neighbors. What makes you light up in your unique way? Those are your hidden strengths. Use them and share them in your daily life, during your interactions with other people, on social media, or however else makes you feel good.
2. Own Your Vulnerability
Let me just speak from experience: I used to worry about sounding too earnest, too vulnerable, or too honest in the things I wrote and shared. I’d think, “Who really wants to listen to this, anyway?”
Vulnerability attracts vulnerability.
But, surprisingly, I’ve learned that whenever I share the things that feel honest and true to me, the more positively people react.
Vulnerability attracts vulnerability. So, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. If you start to care less about what other people think, you’ll find that the people you care about will stick along for the ride.
3. Swap Perfection For Authenticity
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood didn’t have slick sets or special effects. Most of the time, the show just featured a man sitting and talking to someone else. Sometimes, that someone else was a hand puppet. He acted fast, creating shows that subtly (and not so subtly) responded to current events, not thinking twice about how they might be perceived or overthinking everything that was involved. He was true to himself.
You can choose to be perfect. Or, you can choose to be authentic. It’s very hard to be both.
As he famously said: "You don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you." All you have to do is be yourself. Fred Rogers choose authenticity—and that turned out to be the perfect move for him.