To Thine Own Self Be True

Shakespeare’s body of work is ladled with pearls of wisdom. So many that you can’t even count unless you’re a scholar specialising in The Bard’s work. I majored in literature for both by Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs, so I sort was forced to study most of his major work. (Let me tell you, all I enjoy in Literature is great plays and outstanding novels. I hate poetry, classic and work from the Shakespearean era.)

One of The Bard’s most memorable quotes is, “to thine own self be true.” It’s deep, emotional and I hold it so dear to me. It’s also quite hard to practice. Particularly for folks who are going through a rough time because it exposes your truth, which is always hard to accept.

Now, there are several interpretations to this quote. I’m sharing three of the most popular ones:

  1. Someone can better judge himself if he has done what he should or could have done.
  2. One must be honest in his ways and relations.
  3. One must always do the right thing.

These days it’s quite commonly used in context of honestly, commitment, dedication and loyalty. Some organisations use it to boast about their commitment to quality and excellence.

To each, his/her own. Personally, I think the phrase means that, “you can’t truly give your best if you haven’t been truthful to yourself.” I don’t care if Shakespeare would kill (or sue, periodically more appropriate) me for this but that interpretation has served me well. It has helped me be true to myself and be the person who I am today.

I use it quite a bit during my coaching conversations when clients are either stuck or in a dilemma of some kind. I can’t tell you how often I get the, “I want to be a millionaire in the next 3 years” or the “I want to be a high-flying rockstar who runs multi-million dollar businesses” (exact words from a client I had to fire — unreasonable expectations) as the core objective for the engagement. Of course, it’s baloney! And I get to know when I ask them “what makes that goal important to them?” or simply “why do you want to do that?”

You wouldn’t believe the power of questions when you ask people something that would challenge their beliefs and force them to clarify their intent. And most people fail to answer.

Of course, my objective as a coach isn’t to prove who’s right or who is wrong but to help my client’s see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes what people think is the light is a mirage (or hallucination, if you will).

The biggest disservice we do to ourselves is not being brutally honest. It’s not easy. It’s painful. But I would rather have to go through all that right now than years later when you realise you’ve been climbing the wrong ladder all along.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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