William Shakespeare said it best. It’s a familiar saying, but when you really stop to consider the meaning behind the cliché, you’ll discover a powerful combination of six simple words.

I just spent an hour lying in the sun on a chaise lounge in the back yard, something I haven’t done for decades. The lure of the rays was just too strong, even though the heat today is probably stronger. But with a lot of sunscreen and a little common sense, soaking up the sun for a limited amount of time is a small luxury.

It’s also a great opportunity to allow your mind to wander and to think random thoughts rather than worry about time or chores or the next thing on the list. As I was relaxing, this quote by the Bard popped into my head. It’s only a partial quote from a longer phrase, but it has a lovely ring to it.

I spent a lot of my life not being true to myself, probably because I didn’t know myself very well. I think part of the beauty of getting older is that you start to listen more closely to your own voice than to the ones around you. It’s important to listen to those other voices and to hear what’s been said, but the most important voice belongs to you. And whether you use it so that others can hear it or whether you simply listen to it yourself, internally, it is what should guide you every day.

I know one thing for sure–trying to follow the voice of another, especially when that voice directly contradicts your own, will bring you nothing but despair and emptiness and a sense of loss because what you’ve lost is yourself.

When you finally figure out what it is you believe in and what you don’t; what matters and what doesn’t; what makes sense and what makes no sense; what rings true and what feels false; it is pointless to try to ignore your own voice in favor of another even when you realize that you’ve become someone who some others may not recognize or feel they know anymore.

Many people probably go through a phase of rebellion against the norms that have directed their lives up until that point when they start to think differently. That sort of rebellion isn’t limited to the teenage years. Sometimes that rebellion happens late in life and then it throws everybody off. A rebellion should be short-lived because it is a time of upheaval and during any rebellion the point is usually to prove to others that you are right and they are wrong–not a frame of mind that you want dictating the rest of your life.

But the result of a worthwhile rebellion should be that when the dust settles, you find yourself in the aftermath. The need to prove yourself and your point of view and your beliefs is gone because those things are now who you are instead of who you think you may need to be but are scared to become for fear of disappointing others who want you to be someone else.

I’m being purposely vague because if these words make sense to you, then you have your own specific examples of how this can happen. If these words don’t make sense to you, then maybe you have never gone through a change in perspective, and maybe you have no need, or maybe your time hasn’t come.

When you finally arrive at a place where you are true to yourself, fair warning, you will see the world–your world and the people in it–differently, which can be a good thing and a bad thing, depending upon the circumstances. But the relationships that matter will last, and grow, and become stronger no matter what.

Only you can think for yourself. If you let someone else do it for you, then you have not only let yourself down; you have let the world down. Because your voice cannot be replaced. It is unique and deserves to be heard or at least listened to within the confines of your own mind. When you simply echo ideas and opinions that are widely held or important to those you love but that you don’t really believe, then you have allowed your voice to be silenced. And the din around you will swallow you up and next time you’ll have to fight even harder to be heard or to hear yourself.

This above all, to thine own self be true.