Is self-awareness at scale? Um, no.

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This is one of those posts where the underlying content applies to both work and personal existence. This is more common than we admit. We like to draw a thick line between “our work selves” and “our personal selves,” but in reality it’s a pretty thin line. Good example: at both work and in your personal life, all the time people have no clue what they want. It can get frustrating.

Here’s another huge one: self-awareness. Self-awareness is by no means normative. It’s not at scale. It’s not at scale in people’s personal/social lives, and it’s not at scale in terms of work. How un-scaled is it in terms of work? Well, consider this:

Even though self-awareness — knowing who we are and how we’re seen — is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness, it’s in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. In our nearly five-year research program on the subject, we’ve discovered that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.

Harvard Business Review

Read the bottom sentence a few times. That’s the whole issue. Everyone thinks they are self-aware. They are often not.

An exercise in self-awareness

I could probably write a novel in this section, but I’ll keep it relatively short.

Let’s do an easy one: I got divorced in March 2017. If you go find my ex’s friends, probably most are going to say it’s largely my fault. That’s what happens with people — they go their familiar pole. Still, though, a lot of it was m

  • Drinking too much
  • Being selfish
  • Not taking the relationship as seriously as I could
  • Self-loathing
  • General disconnect

OK. So, now I needed to go fix those. If you identify problems and don’t fix them, that accomplishes nothing. If you fix things that aren’t really problems, ditto. Now, while you’re doing this, you also need a degree of self-care with yourself — “Progress, not perfection.” No one arrives and “gets it” (life) all at once. It takes time and steps.

But the process of self-awareness is sitting down and thinking about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the indifferent in your life — but being legit real with yourself in the process. Back in probably 2010–2011, I thought I was done with all the corporate shit and I wanted to go be a teacher. I got an interview in D.C. and I had to give a sample lesson at this school. It was arguably the worst lesson ever taught that I gave that day. Just awful. Didn’t plan well, and most stuff went wrong. That tends to happen when you don’t plan well.

So… whenever I need to be self-aware, I channel that day and how I felt walking out of that school knowing how badly I jacked that up. Just think of a moment you’ve been vulnerable and known it was on you. That’s where self-awareness begins. Go from there.

Why is this so hard at work, though?

Because work is not designed to have moments for actual thinking and context and all that. Work is largely about tasks. It’s mostly about getting stuff done. True “thinking” is mostly dead.

It’s hard to find pockets for self-awareness because:

  • You largely race meeting-to-meeting
  • You’re in a “frenemies” context where you collaborate with people who can get promoted over you (make more money), so you don’t want to be seen as weaker
  • Who has the time?
  • Who even knows how to begin?
  • Is this something that you receive incentives on or around?
  • I have a standup on revenue plays!

But it’s important to find those pockets for self-awareness and self-reflection. Consider this, from that same HBR article linked above:

Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half. According to our research, other consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.

Harvard Business Review

None of those are good consequences, right?

Could you be more self-aware at work?

Sure, but it’s challenging.

Here’s what you would need:

  • A different type of culture

What that looks like:

  • Meetings where people talk about bigger issues and not just tasks
  • Quarterly meetings where you ‘fire yourself,’ admitting what you recently did wrong and creating an action plan to do it better
  • Anon surveys (or non-anon!) about how you interact with your co-workers
  • Deep, long 1-on-1s once a quarter with you and your manager about perceptions and expectations
  • I would say “training” here, but let’s be honest, ain’t no one gonna pay for training that isn’t directly bottom-line-tied

Most companies could never do the above — it’s too far away from the tasks and the money. But if you could, you could start to cultivate more self-awareness among your people, and if you could do that, it’d be a better culture and a better place to work. That’s the goal, right? (Well, that and making more money?)

Another note on the personal side

We live in an insanely polarized time where most people (a) believe their shit is the only shit that matters and (b) have a network or platforms or social sites they can run to in order to justify that. Very hard to cultivate self-awareness in that context. Instead, you just reinforce your own worldview every hour. If you didn’t know, that’s called “confirmation bias.” That’s much more normative in the modern age than self-awareness is.

It’s very hard to cut through all this shit. If you love Trump, go talk to a non-Trump person. If you hate him, do the same. You will never, ever find common ground. It’s more likely to hit screaming before that. If both sides could be self-aware — “OK, well, he’s good on the economy, but I wish he’d treat women and minorities better…” — we’d get further. But that’s not how things are set up right now.

So yes, self-awareness is not really at “scale” by any means. But you can still find your own path through the drivel and dreck by reflecting on where you could be headed.

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