This old adage has been doing the rounds for a very very long time. But, what do we really make of this idea — to “know thyself”. What are we really trying to know?

The what

Know thyself could be read as a well intended piece of ancient wisdom around generally understanding yourself. Your skills and character traits, hopes and dreams, virtues and vices. Developing an awareness of your behaviour and thought patterns is indeed a powerful way of bringing more clarity into your life.

know thyselfWhat drives you to do the things that you do in your life?
What ideas/experiences have had the greatest influence on you?
How do you occupy the various roles that you have in life— as a friend, spouse, parent, colleague, boss etc.

All useful introspective questions that require a degree of fortitude to grapple with.

What you have to remember is that while you may be a particular way at a certain point in time, you do not always have to be that way. There is a danger that taking the words know thyself too literally can lead us to resign ourselves to a certain way of being.

There is a danger that we might say: “Oh, this is just the way I am – I know myself”.

What is, and what might be

Of course, we are all a certain way, each one of us unique in our individual expression. Yet, it is one thing to acknowledge that, and quite another to limit yourself out of some notion that change is not possible because you “know yourself”. What the knowing is really about then is embracing who you are today, at this particular point in time, but being open to the possibility of change.

know thyselfFully embracing who you are is the starting point. No matter where you stand, giving yourself the permission to inhabit who you are for everything that you are at this moment is fundamental to personal change and growth. And, out of such permission comes all the possibilities of where you might go next.

This kind of knowing thyself is about acknowledging your reality as it is, without necessarily being defined by it. It is about seeing the great human gift of choice — the choice that we each have about what we make of ourselves.

It is then probably more accurate to say “know thy transient self, for it is never fixed“.

Final Thoughts

Remember too that there might be a discrepancy between really knowing thyself and thinking that you know thyself. And, perhaps this is a gap that may be difficult to ever fully bridge, for it begs the question — is it even possible to ever fully know thyself? But, that is a discussion for another day!

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