“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
It should come as no surprise at all if you find the quote above to be familiar. It is perhaps the best-known line in the entire Art of War, and for good reason. Essentially, everything in The Art of War—along with everything we’re discussing in the Gear Up Mondays series—can be boiled down to this. If you know and comprehend the basic things, you will know and comprehend the complicated things. In war, what could be more basic than the understanding of the two sides?
It might be easy for some to dismiss as over-simplistic the notion of knowing oneself, but it shouldn’t be. In fact, one might argue that in these saturated, thin-stretched, easily-distracted times it is more difficult than ever before to know one’s own self. At home, we have television, the internet, partners and siblings and children, and never enough time. During the workday, we are overburdened, threatened, surrounded by people good, bad, and in between, deflated, exhilarated, and constantly dealing with the fact that there is never enough time.
The fact of the matter is, even though you go to bed with yourself each night and wake up with yourself every morning, (presumably) shower with yourself on a daily basis and go with yourself everywhere else, it still takes both time and a certain measure of awareness and quietude to actually know yourself. Hopefully, there was once some point in your life when you had the time and the energy and the inclination to do this, but if there wasn’t, it’s going to be even harder to do it now, for all the reasons mentioned above. Nevertheless, you are never going to be able to feel properly geared up, sufficiently armed and ready to approach your day and your workplace, if you do not take this time to know and understand yourself.
How can you be expected to improve your performance if you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses, limitations and areas of excellence? How can you improve anything if you don’t know how to push your own buttons, how to trick yourself into greater effectiveness and increased mindfulness? How can you feel sufficiently rested for a day of battle if you don’t know what brings you comfort and respite? How can you assess your best role and your most desirable position if you don’t objectively know what your skills are (and aren’t)?
You can’t. That’s the answer to all of those questions. You can’t. And Sun Tzu isn’t wrong—this truly is the starting point if you wish to gear yourself up. If you haven’t done it before or haven’t done it in a long time, or even if you don’t regularly take time to talk to yourself and listen to yourself and figure out what you’re doing and what you’re made of, this is not going to be easy and it is not going to be quick, but it’s the most important part of laying the foundations for daily strength. So start off slow. Start by listening. Hear yourself. Start by paying attention and noticing yourself. Notice the things you do, and speculate as to why you do them. You don’t have to write this stuff down or start making a notebook full of self-lists (although you can if you want to), but the important thing is that you start interacting with yourself. Just as with another person, it’s the only way to get to know yourself. Start now and you can move yourself to the point where this knowledge can be brought to the battlefield.
I acknowledge that this is an immense task in and of itself, but, referencing again the famous quote above, it’s only half of what must be brought to bear. If you at least know yourself, you’re not going to lose every battle, which is great. You’re still probably going to lose half of them.
So who is your enemy? That’s the other half of this equation, and I can’t tell you who your enemy is any more than I can tell you from a blog on the internet who you are. So take the time and work it out for yourself. First, you need to be clear on who your enemies really are. Which people do you encounter that are minor irritants and which ones are the True Antagonists? That’s the easy thing to figure out—I mean, who opposes you? Who stands in the way, preventing you from being what you want to be or reaching where you want to get to? This should immediately be apparent after twenty minutes’ thought, or less.
Figure that out, and then the real work begins, because now you must consider carefully what motivates these enemies. You must ponder what their strengths and weaknesses are, which buttons they wear and own and how to push them to your benefit (and not to your own self-endangerment).
I feel a small need to apologize for the fact that this is not clear direction, but that’s kind of the point. Part of being geared up, part of surviving the workplace and the day and thriving in it is not mere implementation of rote instruction but deep contemplation of one’s environment, internal and external. You need to think about these things as you approach the week and the day and the office, and only when you have done so can you begin to apply more advanced tactics and strategies to good effect. I should also mention that it’s not a one-time thing either, since people as individuals (both yourself and your enemies) will change in certain ways and aspects, and other times your enemies themselves will morph and differ. This is an ongoing process and it never stops.
If you see the office and the life before you as a battle, you must accept the necessity of these tasks in order to shoulder any gear at all.