To Thine Own Self Be True – Part 1 – Know Yourself


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This is the first of a 3-part series exploring what the phrase “to thine own self be true” means. In part 1 we will look at knowing yourself. Then part 2 will explore accepting yourself and finally, part 3 will look at expressing yourself.

Let’s start with the origin of this phrase. Many people mistakenly believe it comes from the Bible but it is not found in the Bible at all. The phrase “to thine own self be true” is actually a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Polonius is giving some advice to his son Laertes before he leaves for a trip to France. He ends his speech with these words…

"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!"

It is not clear exactly what Polonius meant when he uttered these words but many believe he was telling his son to look out for himself, to be faithful and honest in his own interests. In more modern times it has come to mean to be yourself, to be the best you possible and to not try to be someone else. To thine own self be true means believing enough in yourself that you are comfortable in your own skin and able to stand up for your own beliefs, not being swayed by other’s opinions or feelings about you. It speaks of being an authentic person, not fake or phony.

In order to be an authentic person you have to know yourself. Knowing yourself involves understanding your personality, your likes and dislikes, your interests and passions, your strengths and weaknesses, your core values, your dreams and desires.

When I talk about knowing yourself, I’m not talking about your favorite color or whether or not you love BBQ. I’m talking about deeper level stuff, the stuff we often don’t like to explore because it is not always comfortable or easy.

Perhaps you find yourself in a job you hate or in a strained or abusive relationship. The kind of situation that if you were being a truly authentic person, in touch with who you are and what your core values are, you may quit that job or leave that relationship. These are not easy situations to walk away from so it is easier to just keep going and not make changes. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t  listen to the little voice inside your head telling you that you are not being true to yourself.

Overtime, if you are not living as an authentic person, you become less and less happy with yourself. As you continue to not be true to yourself, you become less satisfied with your life. But there is freedom in being real. There is freedom in being authentic. So how do you know yourself?

5 key areas to explore in order to get to know yourself

1. Start with getting to know your PERSONALITY

There are several types of personality and this is something we are born with. Within each personality type there are strengths and weaknesses which determine how we think, how we process information, how we interact with others, etc. Understanding your own personality type is extremely helpful in knowing yourself but you can also use personality type knowledge to help you understand loved ones or co-workers and how best to interact with them.

There are lots of resources available to help you learn more about personality types. Some experts say there are 4 basic personality types while others say there are 16 different types. If studying about personality types is new for you, I would recommend looking for information based on 4 basic types, just to keep it simpler. I highly recommend these 2 resources to get you started in learning about personality types. First is Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers. The 2nd one is a book by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates called Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types


It may seem simple but no everyone knows what they like or dislike. Many people base their likes and dislikes on other people’s opinions. Some just follow the crowd or only like what’s “cool” at the time. But is that really knowing yourself? I don’t think so. Take some time to figure out what you like and dislike, even simple things like foods or colors or styles. As you figure out what you like and dislike, you begin to piece together a better picture of yourself.

The same goes for strengths and weaknesses, whether it be in your private life or your public life. You have to discover your strengths in order to give yourself credit for them. Discovering your weaknesses gives you a great area to focus in on personal growth. Take a look at your relationships, your parenting, your work style, your marriage. These are all great areas to search for your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Take a look at your CORE VALUES

Your core values are the principles or moral code that dictate how you live and how you interact with other people. Do you value honesty, achievement, integrity, security, love? We all have core values that determine how we conduct ourselves. Sometimes, there is a disconnect between the values we hold dear and our actions or behavior. This leads to unhappiness and possibly depression because we are not living in congruence with our values. This is why it is important to identify our core values and decide which ones we will not compromise. Compromising on your core values can destroy your life and your relationships.

4. Discover your INTERESTS and PASSIONS

This is an area of life that can provide the most meaning for us. Someone said, “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” Some people are fortunate to be able to do what they love and get paid for it. They are operating in the zone of working in an area of interest and/or passion that brings joy and fulfillment to their life. Others are not able to work in an area of interest or something they feel passionate about. If you find yourself in this situation, you can still find fulfillment and joy by discovering an interest or a passion that can be a hobby. Having a hobby that you love and putting your heart into it can go a long way in balancing out a job you don’t care for.

5. Plan your GOALS and DREAMS

Are you a goal-oriented person or more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person? Do you have a dream you’ve given up on or one you are actively pursuing? Identifying your goals and dreams is a key factor in knowing yourself. It is hard to achieve a goal without identifying it, writing it down and laying out some steps to get there. So take a look at your life, write down some goals, figure out the steps and start moving forward.

Dreams are an important part of life as well. Many have abandoned their dreams and pushed them out of their mind. For some, it may have come from deep disappointment. Others have never really had a dream or have been made to feel their dream was unimportant. Dreams give us hope and hope can inspire us to keep going, to keep pressing on. The poet Harry Kemp said, “The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream.”

Knowing your dreams and desires is the first step toward reaching them. Think about what your goals and dreams are for your near future as well as your distant future. Write them down and begin to move toward them today.

Knowing yourself is the first step in being true to yourself. As you gain understanding into your own character, personality, values, interests, and dreams you set the stage for the next step in being true to yourself — accepting yourself. It is impossible to accept yourself before you truly know yourself so don’t skip this first step. Take a few minutes to work through each of these 5 areas to get a better understanding of yourself. Next week, we’ll talk about accepting yourself as the second step in being true to yourself.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Here’s what I think 😉

    The hardest part is resisting the urge to try to short circuit the process. But instead, investing the time, mental energy and emotional vulnerability to the path of learning to be true to oneself.

    1. Hi Amy! Yay, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with your take on it. I have struggled with that too. It takes discipline to just keep doing it, one step at a time, day after day until it feels better and more normal.

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