Self-Awareness and Your Career

by Bill Ryan

Psychology plays a significant role in the development of our careers. It starts with identifying our work interests when we are young and expands over time to include interpersonal relations, self-motivation, passion for what we do, attitudes toward superiors, team cooperativeness, and many other job related aspects. Perhaps most importantly psychology speaks to how constructive we are on the job and the manner in which we manage our mental well-being and stress levels while on the road to productivity.

Effective performance is dependent on how a worker feels at work. Safety, security, and freedom from harassment are basic. Beyond that, feeling appreciated and being prepared to work efficiently sets up an employee to be a valued contributor. Quality management can be instrumental in establishing and maintaining such workplace conditions. But realizing the benefits of positive psychology is not just the responsibility of management. The state of our psychology is ultimately up to each of us individually-in life as well as at work.

Perhaps the key psychological quality determining how well we will flourish in our careers is self-awareness. Individuals with keen self-awareness possess a nearly full perception of their emotional makeup, potentials, imperfections, requirements, and what energizes them. They are well equipped to capitalize on their strengths while managing their weaknesses. Self-aware professionals carry with them a quiet self-confidence based in honesty and realism knowing they don’t have to fake it to make it. Their success results from a work product competently delivered, but not exceeding their capacity to perform effectively. They know what they know and “know” what they don’t know.

Self-awareness need not be thought of as some metaphysical trait held by only a few anointed people. We all practice it to some degree. For example, if we know that too many scheduled meetings packed closely together stress us out, then we work to make sure the meetings during which we are expected to participate are spaced such that we can contribute optimally. If we get manic when seeing our email inbox overflowing with superfluous messages, then we let our co-workers know to only send messages of significant importance. If we know our best work comes from meeting deadlines, then we structure our work flow such that tasks needing completion by a specific time are stacked accordingly. (Don’t have control about such conditions with your job? You may be in the wrong job.)

An additional benefit of self-awareness is its extended usefulness to co-workers. The self-aware colleague is less likely to lash out in frustration or to make unreasonable demands of others. They have a leg up on assessing the capacity levels of their fellow associates and can sense how each best accomplishes their assignments. Team orientation and work yield are enhanced the more self-aware members are involved. Self-aware coworkers and managers can serve as models, if not unofficial mentors thereby improving the overall workforce.

Self-awareness is internally cultivated over time. Developing this ability is largely linked to how reflective we each choose to be. Reflection is a chief component of critical thinking. As we refine our reflective skill we find ourselves more adept in examining, analyzing, and assessing experiences, which better informs how we address future challenges. For some of us, building in time and effort to be reflective may need to be more intentional. If we observe that our default mode is to keep plowing through the details and minute-by minute demands of our jobs without purposefully reflecting on what insights we can gain from the approaches we take, then we deny ourselves the richness that can come from reflection and by extension self-awareness.

In short, self-awareness is bringing increased clarity to our work values and goals. Our decisions are improved and our objective of strengthening and deriving more satisfaction from our careers becomes more likely. Don’t worry. Very few of us have reached self-awareness nirvana, so give yourself a break and start or continue polishing this aptitude wherever you are.