The Greek maxim snaked its way through history. Some old but unknown philosopher said it and moderns repeat it. Many a young man or woman has been told: “know thyself.”
Fast forward centuries to the Globe Theater on the south bank of the Thames River. One night, a play by the shining star of the stage, William Shakespeare, came to life.
The play was Hamlet. While it etches many lines to the English idiom, one stands out. Polonius turns to Laertes and tells him, “To thine own self, be true.”
Maxims, poetry, and literature leave us scratching our heads rather than providing direction.
How can we “know” ourselves?” How can we be “true” to ourselves?
Every human who draws breath turns this riddle over in their mind, without finding an answer.
It is difficult, and sometimes not what you want to see.
When I was completing junior high, counselors gave aptitude tests. The results would assist me in choosing the best courses for the proper trajectory of the rest of my life.
I already knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t need a test. I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer that might lead to space. (In 1969, what else was important?)
I took the test, and the counselor arranged for a conference with my parents and me.
She shared what the test measured, and then came the crushing blow. “You show a high aptitude for verbal skills. Speech would be a good fit.”
No one gets to the moon making speeches. But being the dutiful student that I was, I conformed.
And (swallow hard), the test was right.
Today, I am most comfortable when I speak, teach, or write.
Many people wander through life. They make plans, earn degrees, take jobs, and get promotions, all the while hating their professions. One survey revealed that 70% of lawyers wish they did something else, anything else.
So, how do you look at yourself in the mirror of truth to see you, not the image you believe?
In 1989, Leadership Journal published an interview with an unlikely person found in a periodical for church leaders.
The interviewee was Peter Drucker, “the father of modern management.” His books redefined executive function in the Information Age. After many years, Drucker retired from teaching business management. In retirement, he took a position at Claremont Graduate School training church leaders.
The article opened my eyes to many realities. The interviewer asked, which movements changed Western civilization the most?
Drucker focuses on the 16th century as a fulcrum which turned our modern world.
Two forces dominated Sixteenth-Century Europe. One was the Jesuits, started by Ignatius of Loyola. The other was Methodism whose father was John Wesley. While on different poles of the theological globe, they approached their work in the same way.
Their process (spiritual disciplines) had three main pillars.
- Define a key activity.
- Write it down.
- Be ruthless in evaluating.
- Then came the real ingredient. Keep doing what works and stop doing what doesn’t.
When you look at both Ignatius and Wesley, they had few failures. Each weeded out the weakness and reinforced the strengths.
That pill is hard to swallow for an educational age. We can do enough remedial training to make anyone do anything.
It takes too much energy and time to overcome your deficits. By trying to improve your weaknesses, you ignore your strengths.
Long before Ignatius or Wesley, another arrived unseen by the Roman world. Paul the apostle was beaten, berated, and bold. He assaulted his world with a lance of truth and took no prisoners.
He told the Romans,
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6–8)
God made you what you are. It is in the uniqueness that his creation is best seen. No snowflake or cloud is alike. No fingerprint duplicates another. God makes originals and no copies.
People who grab for at the ring labels “I should” rather than “I am” grow frustrated. Worse, you irritate others at the same time.
Examine your life. Ask the right questions.
- What did I do? (Remember, write it down, so you don’t cheat.)
- Did it do what I wanted? (Remember, don’t lie).
- If it works do more of it, If it doesn’t, quit.
As the years pile up, you get better or grow bitter. Learn from Paul, Ignatius, and Wesley. Then, you grow every day into the person to become the person God intended.