Innovation Blog

The Subject We All Know the Least About:  Ourselves

By Shlomo Maital

Nov. 13/2009

andre agassi

   Andre Agassi

   U.S. tennis great Andre Agassi has published his memoir,  “Open”.  It attracted controversy because in it he admits to using crystal meth, a banned substance, and then lying about it to tennis officials.

           Agassi was a ninth-grade dropout, with a tyrannical and abusive father who was so awful, Agassi spent much of his life trying to build an alternate family for himself.   He told his story to Pulitzer-Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, who grew up fatherless in Manhasset, NY, and found his role models in pubs. 

           Agassi spent 250 hours with Moehringer, telling his story.  He told NY Times journalist Charles McGrath, “I have a lot of capacity for pain, but I didn’t understand how hard this process would be.  I was being asked to talk about the subject I know least about:  me!”.

           What a powerful observation!   The subject that most of us know least, I believe, is indeed — ourselves.  Why?  Because the journey inward, into ourselves, is fraught with pain — and unlike Agassi, who often played through pain (as do all pro tennis players or pro athletes in general),  most of us ‘leave the court’ when in pain. 

          I believe that the hard and long journey outward, toward creative ideas, must begin with an even harder and longer journey — inward, into ourselves, to understand our deepest passions, our frailties, weaknesses, failings, and fears.    Self-awareness and self-knowledge are powerful tools, and vital ones,  if we are to persist in the bumpy road to world-changing innovation. 

          Socrates got it right.  “Know yourself,” he advised, 2,500 years ago.   

          We come to know ourselves,  usually, by looking backward at our lives and compiling ‘lessons learned’ — perhaps, too late to make effective use of that knowledge.   

          Don’t put it off.  Begin your inward journey now.  I offer this advice as someone who began it much much too late in life.