Polonius, Hamlet, Being True to Yourself and Success

Clarity of purpose and direction is one of the keys to career and life success in my Common Sense Success System.  I discuss it in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success, Your Success GPS and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  To develop your personal clarity or purpose you need to do three things.  First, define what success means to you.  Second, create a vivid mental image of you as a success.  Once you define what success means to you personally, I suggest that you develop a clear mental picture of you as a success.  This image should be as vivid as you can you make it.  Third, clarify your personal values. 

I remember reading Hamlet when I was in high school.  As Hamlet was setting off on his journey, Polonius gave him some advice.  As we got to this advice, the teacher stopped and said “This advice is timeless wisdom, pay attention.”  Here it is…

There … my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts hold in thy memory…

Look thou character.  Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new hatched, unfledged comrade. 

Beware of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
Bear it that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s measure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst be false to no man.

Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!

The final piece of advice – “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst be to no man” – is at the heart of clarity of purpose and direction.  It is much easier to be true to yourself when you are clear in your purpose and direction in life.  As Polonius suggests, if you are true to yourself, you can’t be false to others.  More important, you can stay on the course to career and life success.

Roy Blackman, my father-in-law was so enamored of this advice that it was his final words of advice to his first grandson as he went off to college.  Roy lived by these words.  They were his epitaph, displayed prominently on the program at his funeral.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people clarify their purpose and direction.  Then they conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with it.  Shakespeare, speaking as Polonius, offers some timeless advice on how to live in a manner that is consistent with your purpose and direction: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst be false to no man.”  If you follow this advice you’ll be living your purpose and you’ll be well positioned to create the successful life and career you want and deserve.

That’s my take on Polonius’ advice to Hamlet and how it is as important today as it was when it was written hundreds of years ago.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes and leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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