I think I’ve learned more about myself in the last 6 months than in the 42 previous years combined. And it started with a willingness to make the hardest decisions of my life.
- Divorce after 23 years of marriage.
- Quitting the company that I founded 14 years ago.
- Making a major career change at the age of 42.
- Deciding on a minimalist, mobile lifestyle, leaving the comfort of the suburbs.
Take your pick.
I decided to do them all at once.
One of the three primary inscriptions* said to have been carved in the Temple of Apollo in ancient Delphi, Greece, this maxim has been discussed and passed down for centuries**.
In Ancient Egypt, knowing yourself was the key to knowing the gods.
In Ancient Greece, it was a necessary step to finding the answer to the question, “What is a good life?”
In certain Eastern Traditions***, knowing yourself means knowing the entire universe.
Today, people spend thousands of dollars and years in therapy, self-analysis, books, speeches, retreats, and shrooms…all in attempt to know who they really are.
Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? That we should have to seek the truth of ourselves? Who could possibly know us better than ourselves? Yet, the greatest discoveries we have to make seem to be internal.
I truly believe the most valuable version of ourselves is the most authentic. The truer we are to who we really are, the better equipped to provide value for others. As we’re fulfilled, we can spill out into the world, but nature abhors a vacuum. As we pour out value, it creates a void that must be filled by an inflow of experiences.
This is how we live all our life.
In a constant exchange of breaths. Exhaling our passion, and inhaling experiences. But the passion is only available if you’re living authentically. And the only way to do that- is to know what that means. To know who you are.
To know yourself.
The obstacle is the way.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way.” -Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
This is a turn on circumstances that is far different than overcoming challenges.
The Emperor is not saying we can achieve despite obstacles, he’s wisely reminding himself that we achieve because of obstacles. The resistance we face is the necessary environment for growth to occur.
If the weight of the barbell is easy to move- you’re not getting stronger.
This principle from the gym has a subtle lesson for us: In this case, you have control over how much weight you put on the bar. By avoiding the struggle, you’re bypassing the opportunity to get stronger.
You can’t have one without the other. Expecting progress in avoidance of discomfort is like trying to define an up, without a down. How do you describe good without also defining bad? How would you recognize ecstasy without pain? One creates the background from which we can discover the other.
Hard Choices, Easy Life
I think the most dangerous impediment to knowing ourselves, is not societal expectations, family obligations, the government, or your boss. In fact, it’s nothing outside of us. The governor of our progress is our reluctance to make hard choices.
In his most recent TED Talk, Tim Ferriss gives us a little more insight into the Stoic approach. He provides some tools to help you face the difficult decisions that stand between you and your authentic self. In his closing remarks, he gives us a quote from the great Jerzy Gregorek.
“Easy Choices, hard life. Hard choices, Easy life.” Jerzy Gregorek
This became my mantra of the last 6 months. Am I willing to have the hardest conversations I can imagine, in order to live a life that is true to myself?
Here’s what I found:
1: At no time was the actual pain as intense as I had imagined it would be. Fear is the mind killer. Action destroys fear.
2: I had no idea what I was in for. I was clueless as to the lessons I would learn. But today- I’m making leaps. A lifelong journey seems to be starting fresh each day as I discover aspects of myself I never knew, or thought were long dead.
In other words, the reward has already been beyond anything I could have imagined. The difficulties pale in comparison to the prize. Returning to authenticity is the most fulfilling and self-empowering journey I’ve ever been on.
I’m getting to know myself.
It’s nice to meet me.
Every aspect of my progress would have been impossible had I avoided pain at all costs. I needed the resistance to get stronger. The obstacle was the way to knowing myself.
The next step? Facing another fear…
Now I’m about to go to Mexico for two months- unsure about my income sources and not enough savings. While I’m there, my plan is to return to my previous volume of content creation and see if I can make it. Can I make a living from my writing/vlogging this early in the game? I’m sure every successful content creator out there would be telling me, “NO! Don’t go! Keep your day job until you build a bigger audience!”
But I’m ok facing this fear. At this point, fear leads me on. There is an obstacle here, it must be the way.
The way to what?
We’re all about to find out.
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* There were almost 150 Delphic Maxims, three of which seem to have found favor in the long history since: “Know Thyself”, “Nothing To Excess”, and “A Pledge Comes From Madness”.
**The phrase “Know Thyself” may go back even further, to Ancient Egypt, where inside the Luxor Temple was inscribed, “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods”. The Luxor Temple is dated to 1400 BCE, about a thousand years earlier than the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.
***Watch this short video narrated by the phenomenal Alan Watts.
****If you don’t own a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, your library has a wide gap that should be filled.