“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
– Hamlet (I, iii, 78)
The long debate in history about a human’s innate qualities has revolved around the competing solutions of nature vs. nurture. Basically, the main ideas are that you’re either born with it (like Maybelline), or you develop by way of outside forces (Star Wars all up in your grills).
Regardless, your identity becomes evident when you become self-aware. As tempted as I am to make a Skynet reference, I’ll stick with the topic of being yourself.
Let me first address that the quote has absolutely nothing to do with being yourself. Long story short, this is a dude named Polonius, who turns out to be a complete douche, is giving advice to his son to not waste his time with things that are not in his best interests (i.e. questionable women, giving out money). “To thine own self be true” literally means invest in things that will benefit you. Ironically, he gets done in by Hamlet.
I will say, though, that Polonius did have a pretty good point to offer, in that you should know who you are so that you can take actions to benefit yourself. But what makes you who you are? Is it by your past, the sum of your current qualities, or is it simply what you want to be?
Since humans have the crappy inability to look outside themselves and think from the perspective of a third person (with the exception of video games), we’ll just say that it’s a combination of both nature and nurture (e.g. the access to television, and your innate quality of being a couch potato). Now that that’s out of the way, how do you know who you are?
It’s very simple, really. Just ask yourself a series of questions. For example, do I like vanilla or chocolate ice cream? Do I like action or drama? Men or women? It’s really just a lot of self-reflection and getting to know yourself and, eventually, standing firm by your decisions.
I’m pretty sure that most people know who they are, but it never comes into question until their identity is tested. Herein lies my personal dilemma/drama: I firmly stepped out of the IT gig because I didn’t like the work. It wasn’t edifying; it was monotonous and hindering any usable learning time. I chose writing a long time ago, and decided to stop holding it back for something that is limited yet tangible.
As noble, moral, or fairytale as my motives were, others thought otherwise. Failing to secure another source of employment (i.e. money) before moving on was stamped as stupid. There was a lot of talk about how I would support myself (or survive, for that matter), but all of it came in a relatively negative, undermining, condescending tone that just plastered “DUNCE” on my forehead.
It would be diminishing to say I was distraught. Rather, I was bipolar with depression and anger. I wanted to scream my head off into someone’s ear whilst drowning myself in cake. My pursuits and dreams had come under fire, and the flames were slowly eating away at my identity. A pariah left for dead.
I still reel in the heartache of people’s snide, unhelpful comments. However, I realized that they are merely comments on and not absolutes of my character. Simply put, I stopped giving shits about people telling me to get a (any) job. I’m on a mission to find that job that best fits my goals, and settling for less is not an option. I know who I am, therefore I will not retract from my stance.
Neither should you. Don’t give up on something just because someone said you suck at whatever you were doing. The only person that can stop you is yourself. (Or a gun, but really, it’s just you.) If I told someone that photography isn’t for them because they make it look like the focus ring doesn’t exist, I could be erasing a could-be Margaret Bourke-White.
Whatever the case may be, know yourself and stay true to yourself. Don’t stop for some schmuck who probably doesn’t even know who the hell they are themselves. Stick to your guns, and every other “to thine own self be true” cliché and idiom. Be you, and be happy.