“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell
“Be Yourself” is a popular piece of advice. Everyone likes to hear it, yet what does it really mean? The Ancient Greeks said to “Know Thyself,” but why is it so important to know who you are? The concept of Self is not that clear, yet we all seem to sense a pattern of qualities, traits and characteristics that are completely one’s own.
How do you come to know who you are? This seems to be a silly question as you spend every minute of your life with yourself, yet we can still be astonishingly ignorant about who we really are.
And when you arrive at knowledge about yourself, what do you do with it? How does this knowledge help you through life?
Self knowledge is the foundation of any fulfilling life, because with knowledge rooted in your Self you can take powerful action towards the life you wish to create. Taken all together – knowledge of self, powerful action, and imagined life outcome – this is Self Awareness.
“Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” – Sydney J. Harris
Look Within Yourself
When searching for self knowledge, look for patterns and trends in your behavior, thoughts, and emotions that have held up over time, even if they don’t look exactly the same at different points in your life. Here are some things you can look for:
- Underlying Fears
- Underlying Motivations
- Underlying Goals
- Environmental Preferences
- Personality Preferences
How do you find these things? Through reflection and through paying attention to what you are doing. Take some time on a regular basis to think back on what you have done in your daily life and ask yourself these questions: “What was I doing”? and “How did I feel while doing it”?
Also, practice asking yourself these questions while you are going about your day. Begin to notice what you are doing and how you feel about it while it is happening.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart…. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
Look at Yourself from Without
It may seem that self knowledge only involves looking within yourself, when, in fact, it also involves looking at yourself from the perspective of others. Looking only inwards is like driving a car without peripheral vision or mirrors. You can drive straight ahead, but won’t know how to react to something coming at you from the sides or rear. Sooner or later you’re going to crash the car.
Do you know how people see you? Are you communicating to people what you think you are communicating? Imagine yourself sitting across the table from you. Literally, imagine yourself out of body staring at yourself. What do you see? What is your facial expression like? How are you dressed? Body language? Tone of voice? What is your impression of this person sitting in front of you?
Also, notice how people react to you. Do people often react in a way that puzzles you? Did you get a reaction you didn’t expect? Do people seem to take what you say or do in a way you didn’t intend? Reflect back on the situation after it has happened. Again, watch the situation from the perspective of a third party and observe how others are reacting to you.
If you cannot see what you look like to others, you cannot direct your action appropriately and can never use the knowledge you have gained.
Action that is based on self knowledge is powerful action because it has roots in who you are. Taking action that is rooted is always better than rootless action because it has a strong foundation. When you take powerful action you not only know what to do, but why to do it, and knowing why to do something is dependent upon knowing what you’d like the outcome to be.
On the other hand, rootless action is not powerful because the consequences are completely up to chance. Instead of being proactive, you are simply reacting to the situations around you, because you don’t have a good idea of where you’d like to go. Your action has “what,” but no “why.”
The active creation of your life is an incredibly rewarding experience, and is really never finished. Essentially, using your self knowledge, you imagine the life you want to have and direct your action towards that. Although you can’t control everything that happens to you (external forces are acting on us all the time), you can actively take part in the aspects that you have more control over.
There is no such thing as a “successful life” that is not relative to your Self. Each of us has our own idea of what a fulfilling life would be, we just have to figure out what that is. Creating a life is not as simple as going to the “Choose a Life Website” and picking the features that seem the coolest. There is a very specific way in which each of us will live fulfilled, and without self knowledge you will never know what that is.
“A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them, for they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.” – Sigmund Freud