Literally. The ancient wisdom to “Know thyself” emblazoned on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and carried forward by Shakespeare’s Polonius as “To thine own self be true” has carried Misty Copeland to be named (the first African-American) principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Having broken this color barrier on June 30, she shared her most treasured bit of advice with Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes (CBS)—“Be you, because you can’t be anyone else.”
In our youth we try being many different people—athletes, musicians, artists, carpenters, gardeners, entrepreneurs, lovers, teachers, preachers, cooks…. We experiment with many behaviors—socializing, solitude, meditation, creativity, methodicalness, spontaneity, reticence…. We expose ourselves to the cafeteria of life in an unconscious quest for our core self. Wesleyan University emeritus professor of psychology Nathan Brody once described the task of growing up as “becoming more like who we are.” Just as Michelangelo described his creative process in terms of finding the statue within each block of stone, so we as individuals must find the strengths our genes express. Every time a peer comments “Hey, you’re good at that!” a teen’s course is corrected, righted, clarified, confirmed.
In spite of an obstacle course (described in her book Life in Motion) that would have discouraged many from their path, 32-year-old Misty Copeland knew herself and fastened herself to the mast like Ulysses to resist the temptations to abandon her core. She hitched her wagon to a star, and now she is a star with the corps de ballet.
At the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, we help people learn to use personality assessments as a way of helping people find their core self, their statue within the block. Perhaps it is not too grandiose to hope that we have helped other Mistys emerge from their fog with greater clarity of vision and sense of self—more rapidly, perhaps, than they would have by employing traditional trial-and-error experimentation over many years.