“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu
The enlightenment Lao Tzu is referring to is that of self-awareness. The ability to be self-aware, or to understand yourself – your inclinations, your strengths, and your values – is paramount to success in any capacity, personal or professional. An understanding of who you are holistically is the foundation for meaningful self-development and is critical to the attainment of your goals. After all, how can you measure progress towards a goal if you don’t understand where you’re starting?
However, as important as this skill is, very few people will take the time to explain the process of obtaining it, much less offer concrete strategies for starting the journey. Here are some concrete strategies that I have found to be particularly useful on my journey to self-awareness:
- 1 Self-Reflect and Write Everything Down
- 2 Get an Outside Perspective
- 3 Take an Assessment
- 4 Explore, Experiment, Experience
Self-Reflect and Write Everything Down
The process of becoming self-aware starts most importantly with the act of self-reflection. By self-reflecting, we can begin to understand our current passions and what motivates us. The issue, however, is that our passions do not announce themselves in singular events. They manifest over time in how we think, act, and feel. If you can document these subtle motifs and inclinations, it becomes much easier to understand patterns and, by extension, your passions.
Open up a Word document or pull out a journal and start first with answering some simple questions about yourself. Don’t censor or limit yourself in this exercise, even if feel like you’re repeating yourself, the point is to write as much as possible.
Think about the things you really like (or don’t like) to do, think, and talk about. These things do not, and should not, be 100% work-related. Try to incorporate your hobbies and other interests. Try these example questions to get you started:
- What do I get really excited talking or thinking about?
- What do I love to read or learn about?
- What types of projects do I enjoy working on and why?
If you can’t think of any past examples, be purposeful moving forward to note conversations you find particularly engaging, bookmark articles you find interesting, and rewrite your resume paying close attention to the projects you particularly enjoyed working on.
After you’ve added a fair amount to this reflection document, start to look for patterns in what you’ve described. Do you like presenting to large audiences? Do you love having deep discussions about the current state of the healthcare system? Do you enjoy working with your hands in your spare time?
Start to whittle down and combine things that are very similar. Soon you’ll start to form a “personal summary” of sorts with objective, comprehensive statements about yourself, your work style, and your interests. Make it a habit of updating this document regularly and, because it’s a living, breathing document, you’ll be able to refer to it anytime you need to make a decision or talk about yourself. I still update mine on a regular basis.
Get an Outside Perspective
Self-reflection is a great start, but we are also inherently biased about ourselves. That’s why an outside, objective perspective can be so critical to helping us become self-aware.
Consider putting together an anonymous Google form that you send to close colleagues and personal friends. Ask them some open-ended questions like “What do you think my strengths are?” or “If you had to describe my interests or what I get most excited about, what would you say?” or “What do you think could be areas of improvement for me?”
Another great source of feedback is your manager. Ask to setup time with them to gather formal feedback on your performance and how you’re doing. If you ask politely and explain your reasoning for asking, almost everyone will be willing to give you feedback and help you understand yourself from an outside perspective. Add the themes from their feedback into your reflection document.
Take an Assessment
Personality or strengths assessments are also great ways to gain feedback about yourself. The best part about these assessments is that they are completely objective, and most of the time incredibly (creepily!) accurate. StrengthsFinder and Meyers-Briggs are two great places to start.
StrengthsFinder will help you to understand what your top skills are, how they work in conjunction, and how to utilize them at work. Meyers-Briggs is a personality assessment that will assign you a four letter personality type based on your answers to a series of questions. I’m an INTJ for example, which basically means I’m a quiet strategist, focused on making long-term visions come to life (A free version of the Meyers-Briggs assessment, along with other supporting resources, is available here).
The more assessments you can take, the better. While no one assessment is perfect or all-encompassing, they do offer you different frameworks through which to view and analyze yourself. Add your results from these assessments to your reflection document.
Explore, Experiment, Experience
The goal of the strategies above is not to constantly update a Word document with your strengths and interests, although it’s a good place to start. The goal is to increase the frequency with which you are consciously thinking about your interests and strengths, and the extent to which you use this consciousness to live your life and make decisions.
Any kind of exercise that gives you feedback about yourself will only add to the depth of understanding you have about your inclinations, your strengths, and your values. These strategies will be more fruitful the more you can go out and experience, reflect on that experience, and elicit feedback from others around you.
What strategies have you used to become more self-aware? What benefits has self-awareness enabled in your professional and personal development?
Want to grow and learn even faster? Trying putting yourself into uncomfortable situations.
This blog post was written for the inSpire campaign at LinkedIn. #FindYourVoice #StudentVoices