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To Thine Own Self Be True

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I have to admit that never in a million years did I think that I would be quoting William Shakespeare. As a young African American woman from the urban streets of Philadelphia, better known as the “hood,” Shakespeare was not taught in our schools. Edgar Allan Poe, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and the other great writers were not a part of our English curriculum. So I did not have the privilege of being exposed to Hamlet, which many identify as being the most famous play in the English language.  However, now at 30 something, as I embark on making some of the most critical decisions in my life I now find myself intrigued by this great writer (Shakespeare) and I see this quote “To thine own self be true” as being pivotal to my very existence.

“Above all else” precedes the last advice that Polonius gave to his son, Laertes as he departs for Paris and he says to him “Above all else:  To thine own self be true;” and as I read it I immediately paused to look in the mirror and asked myself, “Have I been true to you?” Yes, I have been loyal to my friends, my family, my career, but have I been loyal to myself? And the more I look at myself and engage in this intense self-reflection I’m made to see all of the times that I put on masks and took the center stage instead of being true to me. I’m rolling back all of the scenes where I said “Yes” only because I knew that someone else did not want to hear “No.”  I see flashbacks of times that I went “there” when I really wanted to go “there;” times that I stayed in “that” because I was too afraid to move into “that” and then there are those very, unpleasant scenes where I just flat-out entered into self-deception and took the truth and exaggerated it to the point where I couldn’t even tell that I was in a bad situation. That must have been the peak of my acting career, because I had manipulated the truth so much in those scenes that I actually made a few bad situations seem better than what they actually were and I contribute it all to not being true to myself.

So many times we find ourselves in unhappy situations, in bad marriages, in unfulfilled careers, in unfruitful affairs and it’s not because of what someone else did to us and it’s not because we were not presented with the facts; but it’s simply because we weren’t being honest with ourselves in the very beginning when we made those decisions, when we said “yes,” when we accepted those offers; but just like this play, at some point the acting has to stop, the masks have to be removed, the play has to end and the curtains have to close and you have to go home, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself “Above all else: Have I been true to you?”

By:  Phaedra T. Anderson

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