“This above all: to thine own self be true” is probably the most insightful utterance made by Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ironically, Polonius as a character is hardly true to his own self, and typically bends his will to concur with the opinions of others, as occurs in the following absolutely hilarious dialogue between him and the titular Hamlet:
HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
POLONIUS: By th’ mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it is like a weasel.
POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET: Or like a whale.
POLONIUS: Very like a whale.
By now you might be wondering: what exactly is the point of all this? To keep it short and simple: whether in the workplace, at school, out with friends, or even at home, the hard truth is, very rarely do we portray ourselves as we are in the absence of people.
This is natural, as people adapt themselves to the situations they are in. This adaptive quality is part and parcel of being human. However, the problem comes in when we change ourselves just to make ourselves more likable to others. To accomplish this end, the tendency is to create entirely different lives for ourselves as we weave fictitious ‘truths’ to hide what we feel are our inadequacies. This is toxic to any relationship, as the lies eventually grow larger and proliferate, eventually becoming a monstrous agglomeration that cannot be controlled. At least till light is shed on the truth and the entire structure comes crumbling down, and people develop a distrust of the architect.
Thus the importance of ‘to thine own self be true.’ By being true to ourselves, we eliminate the possibility of lying to others just to make ourselves look better. While difficult to achieve, the benefits that we reap from so doing cannot be discounted. As we believe that to accomplish this primarily entails gaining a greater understanding of oneself, here is some information you can use on your journey towards self-discovery:
- Understand and appreciate your flaws. Each person has a unique set strengths and flaws. However, a person only truly understands himself inasmuch as he is aware of his flaws, however debilitating they may be. This is because ultimately what defines us as who we are is not what we can gain recognition for, but what we believe can potentially lead us to ruin.
People often talk about strengthening weaknesses and possibly turning them into strengths. However, this is wholly unnecessary. We believe in the view that focussing on strengths leads to a much more productive life, as should we focus on strengthening weaknesses thereby neglecting what we are good at, we become jacks of all trades and masters of none. The key then is simply to always keep these weaknesses at the back of the mind when undertaking tasks or assignments. In this manner, we know how to avoid them destroying us without having to conjure falsehoods to cover them up.
- In line with the above point, reflect. By this, we do not mean to look at yourself in the mirror and admire your body. Instead, we mean to think about the way you handle situations and your reactions to what is said and done. Take note of how your behaviour in social interactions could be improved and resolve to stop yourself from succumbing to habits if you recognise them as something that will not be of benefit to you. For optimal results, put aside some time daily, in the morning or at the end of the day, to reflect on your experiences of the day (if in the evening) or the previous day (if in the morning) to carry out these reflections. In time to come, you will gain a greater understanding of yourself, and come to be more comfortable with who you are as a person, making it easier for you to be true to yourself.
- Lastly, communicate. While it is possible to mitigate one’s weaknesses by one’s sheer willpower, it is better to let others know about them so that there is an awareness, which empowers others to help you when you need assistance. It also indicates that you trust others, and inspires trust in them, as you show them that you do not fear them seeing you in your most vulnerable.
Being able to be comfortable in your own skin is vital in optimising your performance in any social setting. The key is not to avoid situations that make you feel awkward and prompt you to resort to deceptions to make yourself feel comfortable, but rather to garner a greater understanding of yourself so that you have greater confidence and believe in yourself when caught in such situations.