“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” —William Shakespeare
When recently opening a package of Green Tea, the quote, “It’s not a privilege to know others. Know yourself. That’s a privilege,” was attached to the string. Perhaps the tea manufacture was having a caffeinated paraphrasing of a Lao Tzu philosophy to push the notion that you’ll some how be more enlightened when you drink this potion.
As random as it may have seemed at the moment, I gave fate it’s due because I’ve recently been discovering behaviors about myself and how I work under pressure that have been most curious. In full confession, I wasn’t immediately enthusiastic or inspired to act on the words of encouragement from the Teabag—knowing oneself can be a very frightening proposition, and may cause even more stress than we are ready for.
On one hand, the business of getting to Know Yourself may at first seem as if it could turn into a narcissistic escapade into an investigation of your own perceived flaws or perfections. Today, where we can turn every smart phone application into our own personal news network, status updating everyone on our trip to the gym, the food & drink we are consuming at any given moment, or snapping off a half dozen “Selfies” at arms length or in the mirror. The business of Knowing Oneself has the potential to quickly turn into how we want others to see us—not who we truly are.
And as daunting as the Tea Leaf’s proposition was to me, the notion of Self Knowledge is as ancient as cave paintings. The great philosopher Aristotle proposed that everybody has a rational and irrational side of their Self, used for identifying our own needs then making decisions according to those needs.
One of the greatest failures in the today’s workplace, and even more destructive in a knowledge based economy, is the inability for individuals to effectively determine our own needs, leading us to make less quality decisions while executing our daily tasks. The core reason we don’t know what our daily needs are is that we fail to read the tea leaves—we rarely stop to take account of what our strengths and weaknesses are, what perceptions we have about our own needs and abilities, and when we need to reach out to others for the proper direction or support of the goals or tasks we’re working on.
Taking a moment to look at yourself and your own needs is not some vain exploration into how you can serve yourself better, but rather a reflection on how you could more effectively serve others when you Know Yourself better.
Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action.