To thine own self be true. A legendary quote if there ever was one. But what does it mean? The typical answer is “be true to yourself” but that’s not an answer, it’s a paraphrase of the original motto. To truly gain from a statement like this one, you must have a solid understanding of the surface level concept as well as a number of deeper contexts that will allow you to change your life in a positive way over time.
First let’s address “thine own self”, commonly called “myself” or “yourself” depending on the speaker. On the surface this is an identity, a collection of subjective conclusions combined to create your own unique self-image. This goes far beyond what other people know about you, which is mostly a timeline of what you did and when, along with what they know of the why. The “thine own self” contains everything you know, understand, believe in, and speak out about.
On a deeper level, this identity contains the past you, the current you, and the millions of possibilities of “you” in the future. Where have you been, what have you learned, where are you trying to go, and where you might end up. Essentially it is an image of you from birth to death, with a “you are here” dot dividing the single line of the past from the exponentially expanding possibility of your future. Never in your life will you be able to document all of the components of your “self”, you can only hope to access what is relevant when the time is right without hesitation.
Having established this definition for “thine own self” we can now look at what it means to “be true”, as the standard dictionary definition doesn’t quite cut it. What really needs to happen is you need to be honest with yourself, not just about your ethics, morals, and history, but about what the core issue is that must be addressed in the moment. There may be more than one issue, but you need to prioritize in an instant and dive at what is most important to you. This is similar to “picking your battles” without the “knuckling under” business.
So, to piece all of this together, “to thine own self be true” means to analyze the moment, choose the highest priority, and use everything you can from your identity to make the best possible choices and achieve the future “you” that you see as ideal. It does NOT mean look out for yourself first, do things your way every time, or stop others every time they do something that goes against your principles. If you have established your identity, people around you will already know how you feel. Even a complete stranger can see some of what you stand for just by looking at you; where you are, what you are doing, and how you go about your business.
Bottom line is you need solutions for problems, answers to questions, and often in a hypothetical situation to fully develop your once and future identity. The world is infinitely complex, but there are a finite number of principles that it is filtered through. Know yourself, your ethics and morals, the results of past decisions made by both you and others, and you will have a “self” to be “true” towards.
Reduced to a single statement, all of this would read:
To be true to oneself, you must strive for the best in yourself and others, find the good and nurture it, allow error but guide the recovery, and accept progress in lieu of perfection while sharing wisdom from your soul, delivering integrity from your heart, solving problems with your mind, and constantly progressing towards a better you.
This essay is dedicated to Tiffany, a great friend of highest quality, who asked me to write something on this topic. 😉 Thanks Tiff!