Self-awareness. Looking in the mirror.
Another key element of an upcoming online course offer I have produced for individuals approaching or going through a career transition focuses on the importance of a continual pursuit of honest and better self-awareness. Being self-aware is probably one of the most important success factors for individuals who achieve a sense of fulfillment and happiness. Introspection is a core component of the journey to self-awareness. That introspection has to be done honestly and with a motivation to discover insight that helps you move forward. And while I focus on that fulfillment and happiness in your career choices, strong self-awareness can boost your satisfaction and fulfillment as leaders, parents, friends, or all of the above.
Self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly, understand who we are, how others see us, and how we fit into the world. Like many other things in life, it is often what I call “compelling events” that surface their importance. What is a compelling event? Events that we experience that either spark or require that we take an action. Something about the event gets our attention in a way that is so visceral that we cannot just passively observe it’s passing.
As I write this post, in the year of 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic represents a compelling event that has disrupted our lives and turned much of it upside down. This time has given many of us that visceral jolting into taking actions and questioning everything, in some cases even ourselves. We have seen both the best and the worst in individuals and leaders around the world. And on the more positive side, there has been an unending eruption from the can-do human spirit of hopefulness and compassion. The onslaught of positive messages and quotes about the “future”, about getting to the new normal, and how we will get through this together, are at times reassuring. And while we might be comforted by the quotes and motivational messages that cross our digital feeds each day. Are we moved to introspection? Maybe, maybe not.
Are you just what you see?
Real introspection does not always result in the glow induced by a feel-good quote. It sometimes takes a darker turn, but that turn does not have to yield a darker outcome. Take this quote from Tennessee Williams, which may on the surface seem to some as jarring or inappropriate as a motivation to move forward.
“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.”
~ Tennesse Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)
There are some stark and unpleasant concepts as part of this quote. However, there is also a hopeful way out here. If all you see, is all you will ever be, then how do you change what you see. If you take the perspective of what will I do going forward, there can be a silver lining of courage in this message for the future. Many of us have no choice but to be introspective at this time. We are forced to make trade-off decisions as a result of disruptions to our lives that are creating personal challenges (money, worry for loved ones, fear, etc.). Or when faced with a complete screeching halt of the many things that made our individual day to day “normals” full of “busy-ness,” we find ourselves searching and thinking about things in our extra time that we previously just never got to.
In addition to both the effects and affects of this compelling event on our businesses, we face a compelling event for creating personal growth and change. A book I recently read, Insight, by Tasha Eurich (organizational psychologist and researcher), shared how expansive research uncovered a unique truth about introspection and self-awareness. The summary, which can be seen in this talk, highlighted that there is a unique difference in how many of us journey on the introspection path. That difference defines those who emerge from it moving forward versus potentially spiraling into further depression and self-loathing. Her research did not yield any specific patterns by industry, age, gender, or any other common segmentation demographics. And that fact alone suggests that this is a relevant point for all of us – no matter what stage of our lives or careers or relationships we are navigating.
Examing both the Why and the What.
The essence of her findings was that when people introspected and sought to discover why they were the way they were, or why the result of that relationship with their boss was not going well, or why their marriage was falling apart were more likely the ones who often spiraled deeper into depression or self-loathing. And while they might have been uncovering nuggets of self-awareness, they were not ones that were in fact helpful or actionable to make changes in their lives. But she offered an alternative based on the research of the ‘unicorns’ whose self-awareness was empowering and a positive force for their careers and lives. The advice was relatively simple, focus on the what, not the why, as you introspect. Eurich notes that, “Why questions trap us. What questions move us forward.” By focusing on what you might do differently in the future in those situations of the past that you reflect upon, you can create the change and the outcomes you desire.
The “recency” effect of this profoundly different “normal” is likely to carry a lot of weight as you navigate the future. It is not likely that anyone who takes this time to introspect will do so without recognizing the context of this time. It brings you to a career and life transition that you did not ask for. However, there is potential for this time to jolt you forward in ways that create a better you and a better world – your career, your relationships, your life. This time has potentially raised questions for you that you may have not previously considered or had the time to devote much thought to. There may be people and situations that you took for granted that you realize were more important to you than you had noticed before. The recency of this profoundly different time may catapult you into action around doing some self-work, raising your self-awareness. Make the most of it.
Getting to the work. Tackling this transition.
Even if you are not ultimately changing companies or jobs or roles – you will be going through a transition as the world shifts to from this moment and adapts to future moments. Everyone’s journey is different, but there are some fundamental principals that can guide your journey.
Be proactive about your transition.
Be introspective and grow your self-awareness, but with a focus on what you will do differently.
Be intentional – create a plan, write it down.
Make healthy introspection a continuous habit not just a reaction to today’s reality.
Be accountable, to yourself, to continuously grow and apply your ideas.
You have an opportunity to be introspective during this time and prepare for emerging into the future with a new perspective on what is important to you and how you want to show up in the world. Use this time as an important “career transition,” even if that transition is just getting back to a more normal form of what you were doing prior.
Think of it as an opportunity to personally transform and grow. Look in your mirror and decide what you want looking back at you!