Know Thyself

New York City Skyline / / Know Thyself


Self-knowledge is defined as the understanding of yourself or your own motives or character. It is being intimately familiar with what makes you tick, why you are unique, and who you are at your core.

The pursuit of knowledge of self has gained popularity in recent years with the rise of personal development as a best-selling genre. But it is not new. Socrates is often quoted as having said "Know Thyself." This simple command had a profound impact on the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, and has pretty much influenced all Western thought since.  

But for all our efforts, we remain a mystery to ourselves. Nearly 2,500 years later, true self-knowledge remains elusive to most of us. We spend years learning math and the sciences, music and history. But do we ever really learn how to answer the question “Who am I?”

It's taken me over three decades, and I'm not even halfway there. 


We certainly won't solve this mystery together in one short blog post. Actual self-knowledge probably takes an entire lifetime, so I have a lot more to write on the subject. But here are three points I think are important to get you started. They focus on your what, who, and why.

Take an objective self assessment. There is tremendous value in taking a strengths inventory or analyzing your personality traits. It can help answer some basic what type questions about how you’re wired, a very important step in self discovery. This year, I've been asking myself questions like "what is my temperament?" and "am I really an early morning person?"

For me, the results of temperament, chronotype, and mindset assessments have been pretty enlightening. I’ve learned more about myself in 2016 than I have in the previous decade. Knowing how you're hard wired helps you understand how to leverage your innate characteristics, as well as which weaknesses or pitfalls you need to avoid. For a few assessments I really like, see my resources page. They should help you figure out your what.

Go deeper. These what types of questions above are important biographical pieces to self-knowledge, but there is another layer of depth that I've only recently discovered: identity. A spiritual mentor of mine reminds me to constantly ask and answer the question "where do I find my identity?" This is the who type of question as it gets to the core of who you are. For me as a Catholic, it is in being a child of God that I find my identity. I understand who I am in relation to my Creator, not just my personality and strengths.

Find your mission. Part of self-knowledge is understanding what drives and motivates you. Ask why questions, like "what type of work energizes?" me or "what causes am I truly passionate about?" If you've read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may already have a personal mission statement. If not, consider writing one down.

Along with a personal traits inventory and an identity, a personal mission is an empowering piece of self knowledge. Writing it down and reviewing it regularly will help guide your decisions and daily actions toward the end you desire, so you can be true to your true self.


It's a long process and there's no easy approach, but I'm one hundred percent with Socrates that you should "know thyself." Building on Socrates and Plato, the Catholic faith has always taught that each soul is infinite in its depth, yours included. So it'll take a lot of soul searching to get to the bottom of it. But when you do, you'll find rich treasure in knowing who you were created to be. I hope I can help along the way.

Keep striving!