We’ve all heard of Socrates entreaty to “Know yourself”, but why is it such a good idea? For that matter, how might we go about it? And when we understand ourselves better, what do we do with the knowledge?
For the whole of my school years and the first five or six years of my working life, I had a problem with authority. The people who taught me, or, later, managed me would probably have said I had a bad attitude. In fact my chemistry teacher Mr Cordery once wrote in my end of term report — in the days that teachers could get away with that sort of thing — “Whitehead is the most bloody minded pupil I have met.” Oh dear.
I reminded myself of someone. My dad. For as long as I can remember he had been at loggerheads with management. He could have made something of himself. He had been studying engineering at night school in his early twenties, but one evening he turned up late, revving his motorbike as he parked in the quad. The head opened the window of his study and told my dad to come up and see him. That was it. My dad kick started his bike and never went back.
Thankfully, in my mid-twenties, listening to my dad tell this story, I finally made the connection. I understood where my bad attitude came from, and also that if I wanted to make something of myself, it had to go.
Over the years, understanding just a little of who I am has helped me change my behaviour to the benefit of my work colleagues and myself, make some good career moves, and lead a number of businesses with a degree of success.
Why should we know ourselves better?
Here’s three reasons.
Firstly, when the heat is on, it’s too late to consider what your values and standards are. Exploring these matters in advance will allow you to make decisions that are authentic. Otherwise, you are likely to follow the line of least resistance, which means allowing the system in which you operate to make your decisions for you.