know thyself

It’s so vague. I mean, if you’re going to give wisdom like that, you’d better give specifics. What does knowing yourself even accomplish? If anything it makes you rigid, building up a perception of who you are, as something fixed. And then everyone expects you to be this person you aren’t even sure you are.

Know thyself. I know I prefer vanilla to chocolate, except when I don’t. The other day, in fact, I walked into a shoppe and asked for a single scoop of their extra dark chocolate, adding almonds, mini marshmellows, and heathbar. Why is it important to know who we are? There are so many books, articles, stories out there, culminating with this floaty, "And then I got to truly know myself," as if it’s this ultimate kernel we should all hope we can attain.

Although it’s vague, "Follow your gut," makes more sense. "Follow your bliss" I get. "Trust your instincts." Without reason or a way to articulate it, we know it’s okay, encouraged really, to react and follow our instincts–we know it because it’s a specific feeling, despite "instinct," and the feeling associated with it, being kind of up in the air. But know thyself?

Know what I’m like when I’m angry, tired, or hungry? Why? So I know what to work on? And how does one set out on a mission to know thyself anyway? I hear it all the time. "I’m going to take time and get to know myself." Really, what they’re saying is, I care too much what people think, and I need to figure out what I think. How do I like my eggs or take my coffee, really, when you’re not around to influence me. If it were just me, would I still be here, doing this?

I think "know thyself"–aside from possibly being a direction to get to know yourself in an effort to really learn more about human behavior in general–really just means, don’t lose yourself. Know it yourself. Know what you’re doing, why you’re making the choices you are, know these things yourself, without someone else elbowing their way into your decisions.



  1. For me, knowing thyself is always a work in progress. I know why I do certain things when I do, but others, when provoked, require me to look deeper, a little more closely as to why I do what I do when I do. With or without the influence of others.

  2. I agree. Being in my early 20's you hear that you don't really know yourself, you need to, and that by the time you reach your 30's, you'll be there. I think "yourself" is always changing.

  3. How funny that you should post this just after I realized (initially to my horror) that people I know can see exactly what kind of music I listen to on Last FM. Let's say that my taste in music is such that I've been known to hide my favorite cds back when I was younger…
    Once I got over the "OMG and is NOTHING private anymore??" I just shrugged. After all, it's just music. Ten years ago, I'd have been mortified, but I guess this comes under "know thyself". And this is what I listen to when I think nobody else can hear. :) Excuse me while I turn up the volume…

  4. here's a good example of how "knowing yourself" is a good idea. I was in a bar with a friend. The friend saw some of her old friends and ran over to say hi to them. I do not drink. I had to walk outside and stand on the sidewalk and cry because I had become so uncomfortable inside. Had I been able to get a cab, I would have gone home right then (yes, ditching my friend at the bar). Now I know that when someone invites me to go to a bar, I should say no. I do not drink – there is no real reason for me to be in a bar, especially since I am friends with people who are capable of doing things other than drinking. Thus, I know this about myself.

  5. For me it is more about knowing what is BEST for myself at that specific time. I LOVE the fact that I am always changing!

  6. In my twenties I went through a nasty breakup of a live-in relationship after which I realized I hadn't used the toothpaste I liked in years. Why? Because it wasn't the red kind my live-in preferred.

    I resolved then and there to buy my own toothpaste from then on. And I have. Now my fiance' doesn't eat seafood. Guess who hasn't either in some time?

    Don't lose yourself is good advice. I think I'll be having the fish for dinner tonight.

  7. I agree with Angie. I'm working on not only being aware of what I do and why I do it, but also knowing what I really want to be and do, and how to change what I'm doing if it's not in alignment. I think a lot of our actions aren't based on who we are at all..but rather family and social programming. I think knowing yourself is being able to recognize that programming, deconstruct it, embrace the parts of it you want to, and then act according to your own beliefs/instincts…

  8. I don't think you can really know yourself. Situations come up, life throws you curveballs and you might think you would handle it one way only to end up doing it completely different.

    I am going to NYC on Thursday with some friends for a girls weekend!!! Any suggestions?

  9. What a strange concept- to not know yourself. A stranger living in your skin.

    Comforting almost, because that way you could blame any actions you don't like on the pieces of yourself that you refuse to claim.

    I prefer "Accept yourself", flaws and all.

  10. This was good. I agree that many people get way too caught up in what others think and lose sight of how they feel or what they really want. That's enough to make anyone feel like they don't know themselves.

    For most, the answer is simple solitude. Not so easy when you have a family, but try to find a way. I have a set schedule in the early morning, where I retreat to 'my room' just to center myself for the day and release all the emotional garbage I've accumulated since the prior morning's retreat. My family is usually still asleep and if they wake before I'm done, they know to only knock if it is important. Once I began this practice, other's opinions stopped holding so much weight with me and I could see clearly how I felt at that moment. Now, I may feel differently the next day, but you can only know yourself as you are now.

  11. i dont know. i had a bad relationship, and in turn it made me a 'self' i didnt like. it didnt so much have to do with what others thought; but what i thought. i had to find myself again, because I'd strayed from what that was. but i know that its a constantly changing ebb and flow with life as to who we are.

  12. Kind of a weird post, condsidering that this whole blog, in a sense, has been about 'knowing yourself.'
    It can mean whatever you want it to mean; I think that, like any of those 'wise sayings' it doesn't make any sense until you've already figured it out for yourself.

    FROM STEPHANIE: What makes it a weird post, exactly? Admittedly, in part I write this blog as an account of my life, so I may look back on parts of it and learn from my past. "Know who I was" at any given point. At least that's not vague. There are actual instructions involved. It's not an umbrella idea. Go back and see where you're repeating mistakes, sort through what you've lost, what you miss. Now that's direction! Anyway, it was just a thought I had when I was trying to fall asleep last night, nothing more. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  13. To me it's "Understand yourself". I never knew why I was sometimes cranky without an apparent reason, and blamed it on my 'bad' character. By coïncidence I came upon an article on introverts, and suddenly it all made sense. Company makes me tired. I need alone time. It was such a relieve to know why I was acting in a certain way. Now I know I need a bit of alone-time before and after family visits, and don't get cranky as often.

  14. I think it means something different to every one. What it means to me is knowing what my core values are and putting them into action – reading with my daughter, practicing spelling words with her, having alone time with my husband, being a good listener, etc. All of these things are examples of my core values. Some are just the little things in life (which add up fast), and some are the more elaborate.

    I also think it's having a sense of peace within yourself and the courage to do the things you really love and feel passionate about.Getting to know myself has meant so many different things to me over the years. I still don't know it all -and I really like that part of me.

    I know that I'll never stop learning new things about myself and that I'll continue to evolve as I develop new outlooks, make new connections, or discover new interests/passions, and that I will be mentally and emotionally flexible enough to accomodate – and that I'll always be open to new experiences.

    I know I'll always try to work on the things that are not beneficial to my pivotal people (or me) and know I can trust that my heart is always in the right place, even if it doesn't seem like it. I know I'd rather not be an asshole.I know that there will always be days where I'll want to kick my own ass (or someone else's), days I wish I would've spoken up and days that I wish I would've shut up. Most importantly, I know that I will always live a reflective life and that I'll teach my children to do the same.

  15. I am 22 and "Know Thyself" to me is accountability for my actions and reactions while allowing myself to evolve consciously.

    Perhaps with age, my perception will be skewed but for now it is what is.

  16. I think knowing yourself is about knowing what you want. Most people never take time to think about what they want, so they end up spending their life doing something they think they are supposed to do, or something they hate, never knowing themselves at all. They need to free their feef!

  17. Wow I have been thinking about getting a tattoo that says "Know Thyself" I have been doing some research on the meaning and after reading all the Greek philosophers I think I have found some of the best interpretations here. I am sure I will get that tattoo now imagine all the great conversations I will get from it : ))

  18. KNOW-THY SELF means" experience thy self" …as eternal spirit , Socrates. very sincerely and with respect .

  19. I've been thinking about getting a tattoo that says 'Know Thyself' too, but in Greek. To me knowing yourself is about taking yourself through a journey and seeing the routes you take, and that way, you can better understand yourself and why you do the things you do just from examining the routes you took. Basically it's about understanding yourself. Sometimes we discover stuff about ourselves. Sometimes we find our we've brave when we thought we were cowards. Sometimes we find we had a talent we didn't know we had. The more you think about big questions and big thoughts, the more your mind adapts to them and tries to answer them. Your mind answers these questions based on these perceptions so by asking these bigger questions and taking a long hard look at history, the world and the future we can look at our reactions and perceptions, and understand who we are.

    Some say they know who they are. You might know a lot about yourself. But personally, I find it hard to describe myself to others. They see you in a completely different way. People sometimes think I'm quite but once you get to know me, I am loud, laughing lots, talking for hours about anything and everything. So the way people see you differently is interesting, we tend to display those social masks, which are there for a reason. For instance, I don't yet know why I am not comfortable being myself in a group conversation with say, people I know but not very well. If I know the person well it is the extreme opposite.

    There are aspects of ourselves that we do not know about, some people care not to acknowledge those aspects, others don't know about them, others hide them. These are all things we need to know about ourselves, and until we know ourselves well, we can't dream big and do the things we want to do because how to we know what our dreams are unless we know ourselves? Not many know what their true weaknesses are, people don't like to admit they have weakness, but you can't really know yourself until you know what you fear and why, what makes you weak and what makes you stronger.

    What I want to know though, is how do you get to know yourself more?

    It's a simple philosophy but it means so much.

  20. I don't think it's about knowing your personality it's about asking the one question you have to ask before you can ask Any other question in life….who I am…what I am….

  21. I am so glad you re-shared this on FB. I am looking at a career change, and just the state of being 35 and taking pause. I am being told “to thine own self be true,” which suggests I need to know thyself first. It is frustrating.

    I know I am prideful, hardheaded at times, and a seeker. I am constantly seeking, but to “know.” Bah.

    I think you are right. I think it is that internal drive or instinct or part that really matters. Knowing I’m prideful and driven and a hundred other contradictory things, just knowing that, makes it all right.

    As far as ice cream, vanilla soft serve or blueberry soft serve. I know that much.

  22. To know yourself is to see through one’s ego. That is to recognize that one is not their beliefs, their feelings, their thoughts, their body, but rather to know through experience that they in fact are the awareness in which all these things take place.

    Most people confuse “knowing themselves” with simply having a clearer ego identity, but this only compounds the problem of identity. So really the expression know Thyself is more of a riddle that only those who do can crack.

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