Know Thyself

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How ironic that the pursuit of freedom begins with knowing you aren’t free.  

The pursuit of knowledge begins with knowing the depths of your own ignorance.  

“I know that I know nothing,” is what Socrates believed made him wiser than his contemporaries.  Knowledge of our ignorance is powerful self knowledge.

How else can someone change their lives if they don’t take extreme personal responsibility for where they are?  

In order to go from New York to San Diego, you must understand you aren’t in San Diego.  It was this simple yet profound knowledge that led Socrates to proclaim that the unexamined life is not worth living and for the Ancient Greeks to etch in stone ‘Gnothi Seautonat’ on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.  

For those that don’t understand Ancient Greek that means ‘know thyself.’  Knowing yourself is extraordinarily powerful, but it’s strange to think that some people don’t know themselves.

Strange indeed, but look around you, how many people truly understand their own motivations, impulses, or personality? How many people reflect on themselves?  On the way they live and ideals they wish to uphold?  Far fewer than you would intuitively think.

The unexamined life is not worth living because it’s a life that is not lived to the fullest.  Anything that is rare has value and there is nothing rarer than being alive.  I understand that may seem odd, but everything that has ever lived will die.

You’re alive for a speck of time and then dead for an eternity.  I don’t want to dwell in the metaphysical or religious, but I want to make the point to not be afraid of your own mortality.  Use knowledge of your certain death as a motivator to grow and push and achieve what you were put on this Earth to achieve.

Without mortality, life would have no value at all.  We must know we are going to die to fully appreciate and honor the short time we have alive.  There’s no better way to honor life than to fulfill your potential and help others do the same.  When you’re financially free it frees up your time and that propels extraordinary achievements.

The most complex person to understand sometimes is ourselves because we are not aware of the numerous things that influence our behaviors and actions.  From popular culture to friends and family we often create belief systems based not on conscious thought, but on what the Ancient Greeks called ‘Doxa’ or popular opinion.  Instead of seeking to understand the world within the context of independent thought we simply upload the dominant culture’s views as a shortcut.

The consequences of this lazy thinking and unconscious decision making are insidious to your long term strategic interest and well being.

If you adopt the beliefs of your contemporaries without first confirming they are in line with your value system and noble purpose than your actions will be incongruent with your essence.  This is a treacherous path that can easily be avoided.

Gandhi articulated this ethos exceptionally when he said:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

The first victim of not knowing yourself is your long term happiness.

For those seeking financial freedom in America, we are surrounded by a culture that values consumption above production and the superficial over the sustainable.  These values are incongruent with anyone who seeks financial independence.  The challenge for anyone growing up in America or any consumer culture is to break yourself from the dominant culture without alienating yourself from the people you care about.  Without meaningful relationships life becomes empty, but without freedom life feels like a prison.

In light of these conflicting forces, what is the best course of action?

One way to navigate both worlds is to take stock of your value system and think where would people who share these values be?  What activities would they enjoy?  What events would they attend?  How can I interact with them and build mutually beneficial relationships?

The stronger your intentions are the more your actions will mirror your thoughts.  This is how the financial independence community was built.  If you walked outside your neighborhood striking up conversations looking for people you are highly compatible with you would be disappointed by the results.

On the other hand, if you took a more strategic approach such as attending a local personal finance meet up or conference you would almost be guaranteed to find your people.

All of this begins with simple advice: know yourself.

If you can be honest with yourself, self-reflect, and ignore your ego, a clear mosaic of who you are and what you want will emerge.  This introspection combined with strategic action is how you can begin to defy our consumer culture, eventually achieve financial independence, and carry out your noble purpose.

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