Self-Knowledge is a Verb, Not a Noun

For years, I misunderstood what it meant to claim my calling. Redefining "self-knowledge" showed me the way back to the truth of it.
April 6, 2021

Self-Knowledge is a Verb, Not a Noun

Self-knowledge is a verb, not a noun.

At least, that’s my own preferred interpretation of self-knowledge. I think of it as a practice or journey through which we continually access, converse with, and strive to understand the truth of who we are, moment by moment.

But the textbook definition of self-knowledge is different.

Oxford Dictionary defines self-knowledge as “the understanding of oneself and one’s own motives and character,” and the (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) defines it as the “knowledge of one’s own sensations, thoughts, beliefs, and other mental states”.

By those definitions, self-knowledge is technically a noun, or a “thing.” Literally, self-knowledge is “an understanding.”

I don’t like that definition.

“Understandings” are, after all, never final.

What we understand or why we understand it and how we understand it are all subject to change over time.

And, that is especially the case when it comes to how we understand ourselves or who we know ourselves to be.

As dynamic and changing creatures, we are always shifting, evolving, learning, and growing. So why wouldn’t our understandings of ourselves shift and change over time, too?

That’s why, to me, self-knowledge really can’t be accurately defined as a noun, or a “thing.”

I believe that self-knowledge is a verb, or about the “doing,” the “action” or the “practice” of understanding ourselves… especially as we change over time.

That subtle shift — that reinterpretation of the textbook definition — can spell a much different, and much more free, story of what our lived experience becomes.

Because, if what it means to “know ourselves” is to reside within a process, a practice, or a never-ending journey, that means there is no finish line to eventually cross.

If self-knowledge is a continual conversation with the ever-changing truth of who we are, that means there is no clear or conclusive destination that we may arrive upon one day when we’ve “made it,” as if to say, ta-da, we know ourselves, finally, at long last!

By redefining “self-knowledge” as a verb, instead of a noun, we rediscover it as an ongoing and active relationship to the truth of who we are, moment by moment.

Rather than feeling trapped by who we once were, or what we once wanted, or what we once felt was our purpose or calling in life, we discover total freedom and permission to change our minds.

“Knowing Yourself” Means “Who You Are” Will Change

When I wrote to you last, I shared my belief that the ability to change our minds — about “who we are” or “what we believe” or even “what’s calling” to us — is a beautiful gift.

I said that there may be nothing more human than the freedom to change our minds.

I also find a tremendous amount of hope in the reality that we are moving and changing creatures; that we all possess the capacity as humans to learn and grow; to evolve our outlook and to shift the course of our lives, work, or relationships.

To me, the most essential and foundational element of what it is to be alive is self-knowledge.

But self-knowledge is, as I mentioned above, a verb far more than it is a noun.

Self-knowledge is something that we use as a practice, a tool, an experience, and a resource for keeping up with our changing, shifting, evolving selves — whether the changes that find us are sudden and dramatic, as they sometimes are, or more gradual and subtle, as they oftentimes are.

Self-knowledge is also what I consider to be the most important tool in the toolbox of every soul who is striving to claim their calling.

The “action” of self-knowledge — “verb” interpretation of it, which is an ongoing practice of it — involves continually venturing into the recesses of our minds and our stories and our experiences.

“Doing” self-knowledge can mean exploring the corners of our souls, or tapping into our whims and wishes, or open up to our curiosities, or listening to our heartfelt desires.

Self-knowledge is what helps us to understand the truth of what our hearts yearn for, or what our souls deeply crave.

Those yearnings and cravings are what we might refer to as “callings.”

A calling is any sort of personal vocation, passion, dream, project, or expression or embodiment of our innermost senses of purpose, meaning, significance, truth, joy, or service in the world.

But much like the journey of knowing who we truly are, knowing our “callings” is also subject to change.

As You Change, So Changes Your Calling

As I shared in my sprawling “reintroduction story” that I wrote for you weeks ago, my journey to claiming my own calling in my life was like chasing a moving target.

By the time I was just out of college, I had about a half-dozen starts and stops on potential career paths. Then, even after I left the world of public service behind — and began to claim my calling as a writer and author — my creative and entrepreneurial journey would go on to see another half-dozen starts and stops in the first few years, thereafter.

Over these years, I was aghast at how dramatically and quickly my sense of “what is calling” seemed to change.

But the truth is that what was calling was not changing as quickly or dramatically as I thought it was.

What was changing was my understanding of how my calling could be expressed in shape and form.

What was changing was the outcome, the result, of my innermost calling — a calling that told me to be of service, to do good in the world, to use my words to help others, and to lead by example in my life — even outside of a traditional leadership path; even without followers.

In other words?

I had been confusing the process, the practice, or the “verb” of what it means to know my calling, with the “noun” of it.

Because I was chasing the nouns (the finish lines or outcomes), instead of practicing the verb (or understanding the root of my callings), I was filled with so much stress, anxiety, and existential dread about “figuring it all out.”

I was terrified of making the wrong move.

I was scared that I might say “yes” to the wrong opportunity.

I dreaded that I might say “no” to what could turn out to be, possibly, maybe, someday, the one perfect “fit” that I didn’t know was perfect at the time.

But my biggest problem back then wasn’t, in fact, about to which opportunities or ideas or projects I’d say yes or no.

I was trying to find my one calling — the right, perfect, indisputably correct fit for me, as if there was just one fated by the Universe — that would take me onto my singular path, that would lead me to a certain finish-line that I would cross someday, as if by destiny, to realize, “Ta-da, I’ve done it, I’ve made it.”

Back then, I was unknowingly locked into a strict, stringent, limiting definition — one that assumed that “claiming my calling” was about “finding the one thing,” or discovering the one path, so that I could eventually cross a finish line someday and say, “Ta-da, I did it, I lived my purpose, at long last.”

It took me many anxious years to discover the folly of my thinking and to undo my story of what it means to claim my calling.

Claiming Your Calling is a Verb, Not a Noun

Today, my definition of what it means to “claim your calling” is like my definition of “self-knowledge.”

To claim your calling is to reside within “the verb” of it, or the action, meaning that to “claim your calling” is to enter into a practice of “doing” your calling, not crossing a finish line or being beholden to one, strict, forever expression of “purpose” or “meaning” or “service.”

We are, after all, changing creatures.

Our goals are meant to change. Our dreams are meant to change. Our intentions are meant to change. In turn, so are our callings.

What it means to me to “claim our callings” is thus to enter into and develop the skills of understanding, integrating, and patiently acting upon what is calling to us.

One day at a time. One goal at a time. One month at a time.

(Until such time that we complete it, publish it, learn from it, grow through it, evolve into the next goal from having done it, or decide to move on to the next thing after it.)

The freedom and the abundance of that — and how much potential it gives us, how much possibility we discover, and how many possible paths that it presents — can feel quite overwhelming.

When we step into a true abundance mindset — a shifted outlook that abandons the scarcity of thinking there is just “one” path, calling, or purpose to our lives — we can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer number of paths, prospects, and possibilities before us.

That’s where I come in as a coach.

In Claim Your Calling℠, my coaching collective and thought leadership incubator, one of the ways in which I support you, every month, is through an intimate, exploratory, connective dialogue together — a private, protected, safe space in which we unpack your story, tap into what’s calling, and explore the connections between what’s calling now and what’s always been calling to you, deep down.

Your 1-hour, 1-on-1 coaching session with me, every month, is the heart-beat of your coaching experience — because self-knowledge is the heart-beat to personal growth, change, and what it really is to claim your calling.

Every month, we practice being in the verb of what’s calling to you; we enter into a protected space to actively explore, reflect upon, and engage with what “the doing” of it might look like for you.

Self-knowledge is how we first, foundationally, and continually return to our understanding of that which is “called to us.”

When I write to you next, I’ll share more about how our facilitated group coaching containers in Claim Your Calling℠ — The Roundtable, which features Spotlight Coaching mini sessions; and the Leadership Lab, which features project-specific workshopping, sharing, and feedback sessions — allow for the practice and embodiment of “calling back” to your callings: engaging in thoughtful, sustainable, rewarding conversation with what your heart and soul crave, moment by moment.

Until Next Time…

Self-knowledge is not a noun, but a verb, dear friend.

“Verbing” your self-knowledge — or, turning the idea of it into a practice that supports and guides you — is what helps you to become a more skilled navigator on your journey, wherever it leads, and wherever your calling wishes to take you.

As your coach, I become invested in your story, a peer in your personal philosophy, a collaborator in your creativity, and a co-conspirator in manifesting your dreams.

In other words, I become a sort of “tool” in your very own self-knowledge toolbox.

(I never thought I’d refer to myself as a “tool” in my own newsletter, but here I am, doing it anyway!)

When you become a part of Claim Your Calling℠, you gain not only me as a support, guide, and collaborator in your goals, you also tap into a cozy community of diverse peers; you gain a slate of meaningful coaching containers that keep you in a sustainable and rewarding conversation with your callings, every week, for months at a time.

You can apply for CYC today, learn more about how we operate here, or join me for a free group coaching session — a sample Roundtable experience, featuring live, on-the-spot coaching — by RSVPing here.

No matter what waves, shifting tides, or changing winds confront you, you can feel confident about the fact that you’re in your practice; you’re on your way; you’re in the “verb” or the “doing” of what it means to be actively, honestly, and finally claiming your calling.

I’m here for you, if and when you are ready to “verb” what’s calling next into existence,