As I was browsing through podcasts and possible spot content yesterday, I came across one that centered around this quote: “Know thyself.” Credited to Socrates and recorded by Plato, it was explained this takes on more significance when you understand one of the most important values in Greek culture: areté. The word areté in Greek directly translates to ‘virtue,’ but means something more along the lines of ‘being the best you can be,’ or ‘reaching your highest potential.’ Socrates believed that only in knowing oneself can a person reach his/her highest potential.
This quote really struck me, for it was so very simple, just a mere two words, and yet when really pondered upon, is quite complex. How do you know when you know yourself? What does that even mean? Yes, you work here and you exercise there and you are friends with this person and you are dating that person and these people are your family and those things are your hobbies… but in doing and knowing all of those things, do you really know yourself?
You may know what you like and dislike as easily as cookies versus brussel sprouts, what type of movies you enjoy and what kind of activities you shy away from. You may even know the qualities you admire or look down upon in other people- honesty and loyalty, intolerance and cruelty. But do you know yourself? What qualities do you yourself encompass? Would others agree with the qualities you believe you possess?
I guess I was intrigued because I do feel this is extremely important- knowing yourself- at least to me and where I am at in life. That is one of the reasons I up and left my hometown of twenty-two years. I left behind my close family, my friends I’ve known for years, the environment I grew up in, everything I’ve come to know and love, in pursuit of what, finding myself? I can’t say I believe it goes just like that. However, I do believe that in stripping away everything I am used to and influenced by, I am free to dwell in my own thoughts, explore new interests, and discover things I might not have had the chance to before. I am free of any past obligations and ties holding me back. This is not to say I allow hindrance of my desires, but subconsciously I’m sure it happens more than I think.
I didn’t come here looking for answers of what career path I want to take or what plan my future will hold. I don’t really believe in setting paths anyway, for I find too often life will not go as planned. I trust that things will work out for me, in whatever I do and wherever life takes me.
This does not mean I am hasty with my future, and believe wonderful glorious situations will fall from the sky and into my life. I have been told that I am too trusting and naïve. Though these may be true, I am not ignorant. I do not have a false sense of security that unfortunate circumstances will never come my way in the future. But I do not let those possibilities stop me from doing what I want to do, or what needs to be done in order to shape the life I want to live. It would have been very easy for me to succumb to the protests of my leaving, in doing so pleasing all those who worried about me and one of the craziest decisions I’ve ever made. I would be cozy at home, surrounded with people I love, situated in a safe daily routine, finding a reliable job that will provide for my future of secure living with a husband and a dog and a white picket fence. And I would be living with the regret of never embarking on this crazy adventure.
No, I came here not to ‘find’ myself, but to discover, explore, and create the person I want to be and become. This does not and will not happen overnight. Nor will I return home an erratically new person, changed by the arctic ways. I will simply be me, the same persona through and through, just with maybe a little more depth, a little more experience, a little more insight. After all, a year is a year, and change is inevitable. Years are products of the things we choose to do and not do, the changes that make us blossom as we grow old.
So, will I come to ‘know myself’ once this entire extravaganza is through? No, and I do not expect to. But at least I will have started. I will have begun to create my areté, my highest potential. Because, as Socrates encourages, I’m going to be the best I can be.