Are You Afraid of Self-Awareness?

By Trish Candler

What two words can elicit fear for most people? Public speaking. Just the thought of having to speak in public terrifies some individuals. Yet, no one seems to have died from the mere act of speaking in public. So what is it about public speaking that creates such strong emotions? Perhaps there are two additional words for people to consider—self-awareness. Talk about eliciting fear; this usually gets your attention. 

You see, public speaking often creates self-awareness, and maybe in ways that some of us aren’t keen to face. Yet self-aware people know their communication styles, including strengths and weaknesses, and use that knowledge to increase effectiveness versus using it as an excuse. We have all heard presenters with great charisma entertain us during a presentation, and similarly, we have heard presenters prove their technical points in lengthy finite detail. So which is the right way? The self-aware person uses a combination of styles, and to reward the audience for their precious time.

Self-awareness in general is tricky. We can learn a great deal about ourselves through assessments, evaluations, personality tests, workplace simulations, and candid feedback from a trusted colleague. The tricky part is what we do with the information. Do we pass over the feedback because we’ve heard it throughout our careers, or do we take the time to reflect on the feedback (because we have heard it before) exploring reasons for our actions?

Working through self-awareness is intentional and most effective when it is non-judgmental—just being aware of what is happening and what you are feeling during situations are good first steps. The hardest part is to eliminate the “shoulds” floating around in our heads. We all have mental tapes that tell us that we should be outgoing, even if we’re not, or that we should zip through our work, even if we know it needs more attention. 

Through my own self-awareness exercises, I realized that there are a variety of actions that can get my attention in a positive or negative way – I call these triggers. Triggers provoke an emotional response from me, and my response can be effective or disastrous, depending on my mood or the triggers of the other person. For example, I quickly bore from routine, repetitive work, and yet 30% of my current position involves this type of work. Earlier in my career, once bored with a position, I simply left the company seeking another “new” position, which in few years also became routine and repetitive. Today, through self-awareness, and listening to feedback, I recognize that there is a certain amount of routine work in every role, and I create processes to quickly get through this type of work and expend greater energy on the work where I find fulfillment. 

Knowing my triggers allows me to choose a response, versus react with immediacy or selfish intent. I am also able to use my experience to recognize potential triggers in others, which helps me choose my approach to them. The nice surprise is when others use their self-awareness to engage with me.

The bottom line is that realizing and appreciating who you are can be a powerful tool, especially when you show yourself some compassion in reaching your goals of self-improvement. Self-awareness doesn’t need to be a fear--it is your key to living an engaged and fulfilled life.