XENOPHON • Self-Awareness

Greek Philosopher | c. 430–354 BC  | Xenophon was elected commander of one of the biggest Greek mercenary armies of the Achaemenid Empire, leading the “Ten Thousand” army that battled and almost captured Babylon in 401 BC.

“Gnothi seauton,” is the ancient Greek maxim, “Know thyself.” According to early Greek historians, it was the first of three famous Delphic aphorisms inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Xenophon’s Memorabilia recounts a conversation between Socrates and Euthydemus, on what it means to truly know thyself:

… a person who does not know their own power is ignorant … For those who know themselves, understand what things are beneficial for themselves and can discern their own powers and limitations. By doing what they understand, they get what they want and prosper; by refraining from attempting what they do not understand, they make no mistakes and avoid failure.

In more simple terms, to know thyself is to know not only your strengths, but particularly your weaknesses. Historians have noted that the maxim is most frequently applies to cases in which a person overestimates their own ability. And therein lies the challenge in discerning our own powers and limitations— we’re not always honest or objective with our self-evaluations. We don’t like to admit it, but we think more highly of ourselves than reality. And there’s a hefty price that comes with that narcissism: when you think better of yourself than you actually are, you do not see the need for change or improvement.

So, here’s a simple exercise to uncover your strengths and weaknesses— after writing out a list of what you believe to your strengths and weaknesses, ask a trusted friend or family member to do the same, and who will truly give you honest answers. Then, compare the list. Where there is overlap, you should pay extra attention to improve on those weaknesses.