To Thine Own Self Be True

Language is a funny thing. This phrase, originally from Shakespeare, to thine own self be true was meant not as a way to guide one to a righteous life full of goodness, but rather one full of potential selfishness. At least that’s what certain scholars believe.

This can be taken as a true form of selfishness where all you think about is what is good for yourself, and thus doing that (which is possibly what Polonius was telling his son in the play). There are vast amounts of Tumblrs dedicated to this particular theme of defensive selfishness to the point where the phase has lost much of its magic. An article on Big Think points this out, but also brings up another point: There is no clear-cut virtuosity to stand true to. Things change with the times, our needs, and our desires.

It’s the same with business.

Every business person I’ve come across starts with a vague dream. It’s not clear in the beginning, but it’s there in a nebulous form, brewing distracting ideas in the back of their mind. It eats at them for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. The ideas bubble to the surface every once in a while, and they give it a try. Good feedback means that you try a little more.

Critical feedback means that you put the idea back on the back burner while you mull ideas to try again.

It’s not a need to live a certain lifestyle, it’s an itch to make a dream come true. 

My personal mission statement, as found on my about me page.

My personal mission statement, as found on my motivations page.

That dream slowly coalesces and solidifies into a mission statementThis is where the real clarity begins. The mission defines our goals, our desires. It is our hearts on our sleeves as we put vulnerabilities out there in the world.

To thine ownself be true becomes more than a phrase, it becomes something that adheres itself to our choices and actions.

And this is a good thing.

Having a clear mission statement means that when it comes time to make choices, you can easily say no to things that would be a bad fit. For example, if your mission is to help low-income societies afford better  medical treatments, you might aim for inventing new, cheaper ways to do so. (Let’s just hope you fare better than Theranos.) Or, like Insanitek, you might serve those with higher incomes to be able to give scholarships to those less fortunate with the bounty — all while striving to see that science literacy is spread throughout the world in every community.

Ultimately, how you fulfil your mission will be built upon every choice you make. 

And make choices you will. The opportunities will come randomly from spontaneous decisions, deliberately from steps you take, and carelessly from haphazard moves you make.

A recent example I’ve had to do with Insanitek is to make a decision about an opportunity to work with a wonderful homeschooling network. The major problem is that our niche is serving secular students. Not that I have a problem with religion or religious people, it’s just that market for homeschooling is very over saturated and secular homeschoolers have more need. We are better placed serving the secular crowd.

Then, as I’m chatting with the folks, they tell me that what they could use is someone to help them perform the experiments — they don’t want to do them at home.

I had never thought of that as an opportunity before where I and others at Insanitek could serve. But… would it ruin our reputation as a non-biased science facility? Or would it make us seem more biased because of the decision not to work with them?

Our mission is to serve others in science, increase science literacy, and spread the word to geek responsibly.

No where in there does it mention anything about faith or lack thereof.

Do not mix comfort in with your mission statement.

When I told Ali, Insanitek’s cofounder about the potential collaboration, he said not to do it. He doesn’t want religion around Insanitek. He’s not comfortable, as an atheist from Saudi Arabia, to deal with any sort of religion. Comfort is not part of the mission when it’s an itch that must be scratched.

To put it another way: Fuck comfort zones. Fuck safe spaces. Fuck your sensitivities.

The mission statement that eats at you for months does not have room for your ego. It needs to live a life of its own, no matter where the opportunities to make it happen come from.

The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do. — Albert E.N Grey

When you play it safe, you create a habit that isn’t true to your mission, and thus your vision and sense of self. So draw the line and make a habit of doing the hard things — including failing and learning from it.

The secret? Embracing the concept of being slightly selfish, but knowing that you have to be true to a mission that is bigger than yourself. And with every decision you make, embrace the changes that it brings. Every step along the way, be willing to flex and change, while being true to yourself and the bigger mission. Just don’t sink into the stagnation that comfort brings.