What is it you really believe?
What is it you really want?
What is it you are here to do?
When was the last time you asked yourself questions like these?
Many high school and college students about to graduate are quizzing themselves like this right about now, as they stand on the threshold of a new life stage. This kind of wondering can stir up a mix of emotions—excitement about the future, hope, and self-doubt.
But it’s not just students who find themselves reflecting on life this time of year. As others witness a threshold moment like graduation, we might find ourselves also thinking about who we have become since our last big moment of change. Have we met our goals? Do we have new ones? Are we still the people we were back then? And who was that, anyway? Is it time to take a new path?
If this is how you’re feeling take that as a great sign that you’re still growing. If reading this makes you realize that you haven’t tried to get to know yourself better lately, take this as a recommendation to get to know yourself better.
Self-knowledge is a critical aspect of leadership, and comes up regularly in my coaching work. Often what a leader needs for a new role is not some new talent or skill, but a deeper insight into who they are, and how that impacts both their lives and the lives of the people around them. A struggling leader, too, is most likely in need of self-understanding, as well as the courage to recognize how they are showing up in the world, and to alter their behavior to better suit how they would like to show up.
Here are two ways anyone can work on gaining self-knowledge:
1. Pay close attention to feelings in the moment.
Leaders are often surprised when I ask them to name their feelings, a subject not often crossed in offices and meeting rooms. (And when I say they’re surprised, I mean that I regularly hear versions of “You’ve got to be kidding me,” and “No, thanks.”) But feelings get to the heart of the matter, and it is when we acknowledge them that we are most alive. You can’t just become conscious of your feelings overnight, but you can learn a lot about yourself just by stopping a few times a day to ask yourself what you are feeling right that moment. It’s best to be specific, and to look for physical sensations. Does your stomach tend to clench right when you have to call a certain person at work? Or do you find yourself spacing out just when an important meeting is approaching? When are you happiest? (This researcher, who gathers data on happiness, built an app to let people report their feelings in real time. One takeaway? We’re often happiest when engaged in the present moment, rather than when our minds are wandering).
2. Think about your past and how your family of origin might have influenced the kind of person you are.
Were you raised with a family in conflict or did your parents hide emotions? Were you a leader in your family, or did you let others make decisions? Where did you fall in the family order? Only? Middle? Eldest? Was there any serious illness in the family? How might these parts of your upbringing have affected who you are now, and how you handle conflict, or teamwork, or other issues in the workplace? How might they affect how you come across to others?
You don’t have to be a recent graduate to take a fresh look at who you are, and what you want to become.