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Knowing Yourself

John Calvin begins his massive work, Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words,

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

The great philosopher Dallas Willard gives us some good insight into Calvin’s words by observing that if you are going to effectively care for something, you have to understand it. This is true of a tomato plant, a rose bush or a car engine. Willard then says,

“What you would take care of, you must first understand.”

I remember reading an interview Bob Buford had with Peter Drucker, who was 95 at the time. Drucker is still considered by many to be the greatest management consultant to ever live. He had a great deal of wisdom. In the interview, Drucker says that to know your strengths and weaknesses is critical if you are going to determine the role you will play in this life. He told Buford, “When you know who you are, you will be comfortable in making decisions about your future.”

Drucker then shares an example from his own life. At a certain point in his career, he turned down an incredible offer to become the chief economist at Goldman Sachs. This was an extremely prestigious and visible position that paid a large amount of money. However, Drucker turned them down because he understood his gifts and abilities, and that he could better serve the American business community by developing principles of management and making them useful to companies who would apply them. He recognized that this was his calling in life.

So it is important to know your strengths, your abilities and what you are passionate about in order to effectively connect with what you are going to do with your life. This includes your retirement years.

It is just as important to recognize your limitations, your flaws, your weaknesses, and your sinfulness. I believe this is crucial, particularly if you desire to change course and walk down the path of wisdom.

A good illustration that demonstrates the importance of this is found in the game of golf. When you are not hitting the ball well and you don’t know why most golfers will take a lesson from a teaching professional. The last time I took a lesson, they filmed me and my swing. They were able to point out the flaws in my swing and I was able to see them very clearly on the video. This enabled me to correct the defects that I was totally unaware of.

In one sense, Jesus confirms this truth. In Mathew 7:3, Jesus points out that we so easily see minor flaws in the lives of others but are blind to the major shortcomings in our own lives. I think this is particularly true in marital relationships. Jesus goes on to say if we take responsibility for and deal with our own sinfulness, we are able to see others more clearly while being more effective in their lives.

In next week’s blog, we will look at some of the ways we can better know ourselves. I will leave you with some very powerful words from the brilliant French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“Truly it is an evil to be full of faults, but it is still a greater evil to be full of them and be unwilling to recognize them.”


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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