“To thine own self be true.” This sentiment has become the mantra for how I have been living my life over the last five years. It started back in late 2009. At that time I was wrestling with myself about whether or not to stay in tumultuous relationship. I had been with my boyfriend for going on 5 years, but the romance had started fading a couple years prior, and by 2009 we had pretty much quit having sex or even sleeping in the same bed. I know relationships require work, but sometimes you just have to make a hard choice and admit that it is time to move on.
I did just that. After months of wrangling with the decision, one night in February 2010 I made the toughest decision of my life and decided it was time to close that chapter of my life. The next morning I moved out. It was quick and painful for us both. I still wonder if I handled the situation correctly—if there is such a thing, but I try not to dwell on the past as I simply can’t change what happened.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that night was a pivotal point in my life that would shape my future for years to come. I made that decision to end the relationship because I knew that in order for me to find peace and happiness in my life I simply had to get out. I just couldn’t continue anymore. However, that decision hurt my ex immensely. Yes, I was being true to my inner self, but it had consequences for someone else.
Fast-forward a few years to 2012. I was living in Florida, working at a great paying job, living in a nice house, driving a nice car, had my kayaks, had my paid vacation… had it all. But, inside I was starting to feel that twinge of emptiness. I call this my quarter-life crisis period, and once again I had to make a very difficult decision. In my heart I knew that I wanted to be free. I wanted to be a nomad. I wanted to be out traveling around the world with no strings attached. Once again, if I wanted to be true to myself, if I wanted to be happy, I needed to close another chapter and make some drastic changes. I did just that. I quit my job, sold my car, sold my kayaks, let my lease expire, and then I bought a one-way ticket to El Salvador and left. I left my friends, family, clients, country and home.
It’s about two years later, and I still haven’t returned to the United States. I haven’t seen my friends or family since I left, and I have been staying true to myself—following my heart. But, something strange happened today while walking along a lonely road through Tuscany. I started to think… Isn’t this all a bit selfish? I have essentially been putting my needs above everyone else’s for the two years, and isn’t that the definition of a self-centered egomaniac? Is this what I have become? The answer is that I’m just not sure.
I received a lot of praise for making a radical decision and going all out in my pursuit of happiness. I’ve read countless emails over the years about how I have inspired others to make similar changes in their life so they too could be true to themselves, but suddenly I’m feeling a bit like Ayn Rand—which is not a good thing in my book. You her theory—all that matters is self-interest and preservation above all else, etc. That’s certainly not the type of thinking I want to be aligned to… but isn’t that exactly what I have been doing?
Consider the source of that key phrase, “to thine own self be true”. Yeah, Shakespeare wrote it, but it was Polonius who said it in Hamlet… and Polonius was, in general, completely wrong with all the advice he offered and eventually got himself killed because of his poor judgment and moral ambiguity. Is this really the sort of character to be taking advice from? Once again, the answer is… I’m not sure.
And now, I pose the question to you. Is it selfish to prioritize my own happiness and dreams, when I could be spending my life in service to others? Is there a certain moral grey area in following your dreams?
Well, I’m not sure.