The Apprentice: “Gnothi seauton” – Know thyself
By Kizzy Katawonga, Uganda:
It was almost 15 years ago. I can still remember the conversation that started me off on my journey to riches and glory. A mentor convinced me about how my incredible skills could be bettered suited to private business rather than menial employment.
The dollar signs flashed before my eyes. He showed me how I could move out of my parents' home, buy myself a flashy SUV, clothes, toys and blah, blah, blah.
A rich, independent, chick-magnet future lay out so neatly in front of me. I could be the next Richard Branson of Virgin fame. So I quit my job and started a business with a young man fresh out of high school.
Long story short, the next decade and half of my life didn't look remotely like the picture that was painted to me. With three failed businesses under my belt, I was forced to call it quits. After sitting in my house for over a year without much in the way of work or income, I was forced to look critically at my choices thus far.
What was it that led me down this path? What motivated me and why did I think it was right for me? How could I be so bad at running a business? Why didn't I enjoy it? Why wasn't I succeeding? Was this what I really wanted?
Do I really know myself?
I realized with some gut wrenching terror that I didn't know the answer to that last question and because of that I had made so many wrong choices for myself. It was a very hard pill to swallow because it meant that I'd wasted over a third of my life chasing things that weren't right for me; for my particular make up.
“Gnothi seauton” – translated, Know thyself is a Greek proverb. The Suda, a 10th-century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge, says: “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are”, and that “know thyself” is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.
Boy, I wish I had known this when I was younger. I was truly exceeding what I was and paying attention to opinions all around me. My hard journey of trying to be something that I am clearly not taught me very painfully how important it is to know yourself and also what you are NOT! If I had known that I am not built to be an entrepreneur or that I didn't really want that, I would never have taken the path that I did. I would have found another way to my pot of gold.
I would have evaded a lot of unnecessary pain and delays in my life. Some would argue that I would never have discovered my internal make up if I hadn't gone through the pain and failures.
True. But the point in knowing yourself is being able to take a good, hard look at yourself frequently; to quickly determine what is working, what isn't and how to change it before too much time is lost – which, ironically, is also a key trait of great entrepreneurs!
With each success and failure big or small, if you look critically enough you will quickly see a pattern of strengths and weaknesses. After that, it's up to you to find ways to change, improve, pivot or quit.
I should have quit, no, pivoted my efforts a long time ago but I didn't pay heed to the signs. It's taken me too long but now I know in greater clarity what I am not. And that is not an entrepreneur.
Now that I know what I am not, I can start to figure out what I am. I hope it's not going to take me another fifteen years to figure it out but I am a lot lighter now that I am unencumbered by false expectations.
I have to reconcile my hopes and dreams with the fact that I am not the Richard Branson that I used to think I was. The prospect of dreaming anew is exciting and liberating.
Now I know I'm not as young or enjoy the freedoms of bachelor youth as I used to but I'm also wiser and more focused in my decision-making saving me from childish and trivial pursuits.
Someone dear to me once told me flatly that I just don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. He said I don't have the grit, the hustle, the tenacity needed to get through the challenges of business. He said I am much more suited to being a consultant, highly paid for using my specialized skills to help entrepreneurs figure certain stuff out because of my deeply analytical mind.
Funny thing is, that's exactly what I was recently hired to do at my current job and I think I'm pretty good at it. Happiness!
So I ask you, do you know yourself? Are your boasts exceeding what you are? Are you living on the opinions of multitudes?