Who hasn't heard some variation of the phrase "We're our own worst enemy."? Is it true? Are we our own worst enemy, or is there more to it?
You may find it a surprise, but we are our worst enemy and also our best friend. It's called a polarity. Read on to learn how it is possible to be both simultaneously.
Are we our own worst enemy?
The oldest near reference I could find stating we are our own worst enemy dates back nearly 3,000 years - Proverbs 14:12: "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. NLT"
The oldest quote using similar words was by the great Roman orator Cicero, dating back approximately 2,000 years. His words translated from Latin are:
"Man is his own worst enemy." Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
You can also find quotes from the King of France and the Queen of Sweden from the 1600s saying similar things, but a more recent reference comes from Walt Kelly, the well-known animator and cartoonist. He coined the famous phrase for an Earth-Day poster in 1970 showing his character Pogo saying:
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Let's see if we can find a new perspective on this ancient proverb.
While it seems we can be our worst enemy, ask yourself, is it always so, and does it have to be? The obvious answer is, of course not!
Making an absolute statement that we are our own worst enemy is a cop-out. It creates the false notion that we are not in control of who we are, removing personal responsibility and making us a victim to ourselves! Who wants to go through life as a victim? Sadly, some do, but thankfully, most do not.
Yet, it is true we are our worst enemy at times. Too many times for some! We can work against ourselves when we give up or quit trying, even though we know we should keep moving forward. Does that make us our own worst enemy? Perhaps, but it also makes us less mature than we could be.
Why does it make us less mature? Because maturity and responsibility are linked. Maturity increases with our acceptance of responsibility and decreases when we neglect or reject it. In other words, you can be your own worst enemy by giving up your responsibility. This includes abandoning our responsibility without care or thought. Sadly, this can be the natural disposition for some.
Some want more
Going through life without thought or care can make us our own enemy. But it helps to recognize no two people are the same. Some do not want what you want or what you think they should want. Those who thrive on personal development/improvement can find it difficult to understand why anyone would not see their way. Reality says otherwise.
Some people are fine with where and what they are doing, desiring nothing more. You can argue why this may work against them, but they will remain as they are unless they want something different.
What is an enemy to us can be seen differently from one person to the next. They have a right to live as they wish, just as we do.
Back to the often-quoted words stating we are our own worst enemy. Yes, it can be true for many of us. But what about the opposite end of the spectrum? Can we become our own best friend? Or is it possible to be our best friend and worst enemy simultaneously?
Are you familiar with the word polarity? Polarity management has become a popular business practice for working with opposites dependent on one another. Because these opposites co-exist, they must be managed. Examples include change vs. stability, short-term vs. long-term thinking, growth vs. profit, etc.
As individuals, we have our fair share of polarities. You can think of them as the yin-yang, opposite but interconnected forces. One of these polarities in each of us is our internal worst enemy vs. our internal best friend. As with all polarities, it is not a problem to be solved but an issue to be managed.
How can we manage this personal polarity? First, we must realize the enemy and friend sides of us co-exist. How well do you know the enemy in yourself? How well do you know the friend in yourself?
When you think of an enemy, what comes to mind? Is it someone that is against you? Someone you battle with? Does it include fighting against yourself? If so, is it possible to win, lose, or both?
It is essential to recognize you can be your own worst enemy. If you are unaware of this enemy, you need to wake up! To sleep through the battle is to lose. Yet, to wake up to what you are doing or not doing in your life can put you in charge and move you to the winning side.
I first realized I was my own worst enemy in my late 20s. I recall hearing Jim Rohn say I needed to work harder on myself than I did on my job. What a wake-up call! I had never shied away from hard work, but up to that point, I had been asleep, unaware of what it took to advance in my career and life.
The amazing thing about such an awakening is how it can suddenly change your world. You can seek ways to improve so your entire life benefits. My employers benefited from the work I started doing on myself. My wife benefited. My family and friends benefited. It helped make every area of life better!
I realized I had been my worst enemy and could change to becoming my best friend by simply waking up, recognizing how my thoughts were limiting me, and applying myself.
As the 16th president of the United States of America once said:
"The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend." Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
I went from being the walking dead to becoming full of life. Rohn's simple statement changed my thinking, and I began working harder on myself than on my job! He was right. Here is his exact quote:
"Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself you'll make a fortune." Jim Rohn (1930-2009)
I had done precisely that. By waking up to what I was not doing, I started seeing more of the best friend in myself and less of my worst enemy. Sure, that old enemy will sometimes rear its ugly head, but my best friend helps keep him in check. All it takes is self-awareness, an excellent attribute to work on our entire lives.
If you do not see yourself as your worst enemy, you may already be in a place where you have learned the better way.
Or you may be asleep as I was all those years ago. If you have not found your enemy within, it will help you to learn more about yourself. Why not seek help from a friend, mentor, coach, therapist, pastor, or someone else?
Once you find the enemy, find a way to turn the knowledge you gain into developing your own best friend. I assure you, it will be a life-changing experience and well worth it!