The Self-Awareness Paradox

I love to read articles on leadership and positive psychology, especially the ones with the lists of what to do and not to do (apparently I’m not alone since they’re so prevalent). I’m usually looking for new ideas on how to do something better, especially something I feel I can integrate and implement.

It can likewise be satisfying checking off the things I am already doing. “Listen with empathy.” Check. “Communicate upwards.” Check.   “Be inclusive.” Check. However, as I tick through those lists, I have this vague, uncomfortable feeling that maybe I’m ticking off stuff I shouldn’t be. I feel that I’m a good listener and inclusive, but am I really?

This is the paradox of self-awareness. By definition, if I have poor self-awareness, I don’t really have a good conception of certain aspects of my behavior and thoughts and how they affect or are perceived by others.   I believe I have pretty good (far from perfect though) self-awareness.  Indeed, I will always have blind spots and – like everyone – a tendency to over-estimate my qualities and virtues.

However, I have good BS consultants. When I say to Chris, “I think I’m pretty good at X,” he’ll either laugh uproariously or concede, “yes, you are.” My BFF is the same way (but thankfully, without the laughter). I don’t really know a good way around this self-awareness paradox except consulting with a loving and wise advisor.   Even this is not perfect because everyone has different opinions and perceptions, and what might work for some may not work for others. And my consultants are wildly biased in my favor. That being said, I also don’t have to be all things to all people, but I do at least want to measure up in the eyes of those that I respect the most.  If I fail that sniff test then I know I have an opportunity for growth in that area.

I don’t feel badly about this personal challenge. This is the nature of the human struggle and I’m no different from anyone else in this respect. Having the humility and openness to even question one’s own self-concept is a great start and an ongoing practice.  The joy is in that journey of growth, not in the belief that I have arrived at some idealized and false sense of who I should be.  Having faith in the value of our journey of growth is something I can check off with confidence.

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