You are never going to have the life that you want if you can’t follow this advice: Know Thyself.
And guess what? It’s impossible to truly entirely know yourself.
But that’s beside the point. I don’t know who you are, but you need to focus on this right now:
Your life depends on it.
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What Does It Mean to “Know Thyself”
“Know thyself” was the first of three maxims (or moral principles) written above the entrance of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. And it seems pretty self-explanatory: know yourself. But what does it mean?
What does it mean to know yourself?
Now you probably know what kind of music you like to listen to when you work, and what you want to eat for dinner on your birthday, but that’s not the kind of self-knowledge we’re talking about here.
No, I’m more interested in the stories you tell about yourself and the way you rationalize your decisions and what you dream about when you’re lying in bed at night.
This is about understanding yourself. Which is a broad objective, but we are going to break it down into two main parts:
There are two questions in particular that people are getting at when they talk about getting to know themselves.
- Who am I?
- What am I doing here?
But first, why bother with any of this?
Why Do I Need to Understand Myself?
Why bother trying to figure yourself out? What difference does it make?
What is the use of self-knowledge?
The first step towards taking control of your life is understanding yourself. Knowing what you value, what drives you, what scares you, what calls to you – these are all things that make all the difference if you want to feel like your life is meaningful (and who doesn’t want that??)
It’s important to have awareness of your ticks and triggers and deep motivations. We have all been affected by events or people that come back later in life and make us respond to external events in ways that catch us off guard. Introspection is a powerful tool.
Learning about yourself also helps you become aware of the image that you are presenting to other people. This image is how you are known. It’s hardly fair to be mad at someone else for not understanding you when you are only showing them a carefully curated persona.
The Dangers of Pursuing Self-Knowledge
There is one big glaring problem with getting caught up in “trying to know yourself”: you are not one unchanging thing. You are constantly changing, and you will continue to change throughout your whole life.
It’s useful to dive deep into your own psyches, but it’s important not to get too caught up in trying to figure yourself out for once and for all. It’s not the sort of thing that you will ever be done with.
A part of learning about yourself is learning to recognize the changes in yourself and adapting to them. Otherwise, you end up pretending to be something that you are not and wondering why nothing seems to be working anymore.
Be careful not to get fixated on any one idea of who you are. Don’t let your entire life be dictated by an outdated rigid image of who you used to be.
Getting to know yourself is an ongoing process, something that you use to check back in with yourself as you move through life and make sure that you are in tune with yourself. It’s another way to disentangle yourself from all of those pesky outside influences that you don’t want directing your decisions.
And it boils down to these two questions:
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
Who Am I
Answering the first question is all about self-discovery. It’s exciting and powerful! This is where you dig down deep and learn about yourself and the underlying values and beliefs that guide your behavior and shape your choices.
What is Your Story?
What are the stories you tell about yourself? The important memories that you believe define you? What you tell yourself matters. What you tell yourself about what has happened to you and how you responded to it and how it affected you matters. It matters a lot.
We structure our entire sense of self around these stories; they tell us who we are and what kind of person we are.
Harmful personal narratives have cascading effects. But you can change these stories!
First, though, you have to know what they are.
And there are, of course, some things you cannot change. Part of learning about yourself is learning to accept yourself as you are.
Learn to love yourself. Love and accept yourself in all of your dysfunctional glory.
But you have to be honest about yourself, to yourself. You are not going to believe that love, deep down, if it isn’t honest. And you’ll know, whether you admit it to yourself or not.
And you can’t love yourself that way without getting to know yourself intimately. Getting to know yourself opens the door to radical self-love. And really loving yourself will set you free – from the cycle of searching for validation and approval and love from some external source.
And THEN you are absolutely free to do everything that you have been holding yourself back from out of fear.
You can live YOUR life.
What Am I Doing Here
I’m sure you’ve been told to “find your purpose” or “pursue your passion.” Which is fine, if you have a clear, focused vision.
But most people are not so clear on what their purpose in life is. It’s all a little confusing. And what does that even mean: What you are “SUPPOSED” to do?
Let’s take a step back from that existential cliff. There are more pressing questions to ask. And they will hopefully be easier to answer.
Mostly when people are trying to answer these big questions, what they mean is: I want to be fulfilled. I want to do something meaningful. I want to know that I am doing the right thing.
The problem with this is that there very likely is not going to be one thing that will tick all of these boxes for you for your entire life. Because, you know, you are going to CHANGE! Constantly!
And that’s totally fine! (and normal!)
You don’t have to do one thing for your whole life. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a deeply meaningful, fulfilling life. As long as you can stop overcomplicating and overthinking all these “shoulds” and “supposed to’s” and answer some simple questions very honestly.
What is Your Purpose: Passion + Intuition
It’s very easy to overthink these kinds of questions. Start small and try not to filter or edit your answers:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What lights you up?
- What do you love to talk about?
- What do you know a lot about?
- What are you passionate about?
Don’t get caught up trying to find THE ANSWER. Let your answers be small and silly. They don’t have to have career potential. You don’t have to be highly skilled.
What do you like?
Many people have a sense of what they really want to do, but it feels either unrealistic or it’s just too vague.
For example, maybe you know you want to “help people,” but you are not quite sure in which field. So take a step back and imagine yourself helping people. Don’t worry about being too specific. What are you doing? There are so many ways to help people.
- Are you talking one on one? In a group setting?
- Doing physical labor?
- Analyzing data?
Listen to your intuitive feelings and pictures and don’t write them off just because they don’t seem to make sense. Don’t worry about that. Stop trying to smush yourself into a traditional career path.
Start with what you like to do and match it up with your intuitive vision for yourself and then find the overlap. That overlap is what you want.
In Conclusion: What Do You Want To Be?
It is impossible to entirely know yourself because you are not frozen in time and space. You are constantly changing and growing and adapting.
However, if you don’t get to know yourself over and over again (as you change) then you will end up with a life that doesn’t match you.
Anytime your life feels out of joint or ill-fitting, come back to these two fundamental questions and LISTEN to the answers you get:
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
Are there things in your life that don’t fit the person you are anymore? What have you outgrown? Let me know in the comments below.