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Self Awareness

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are.“

e.e. cummings

What is that makes you, you? I am fascinated by the mystery of human personality. I have been exploring the Enneagram, a personality typing system, with a small group this summer. It’s been fun to think about the difference lenses through which we can view ourselves and the world. One of the things we are learning is that it’s hard to truly know yourself.

I heard about something recently that’s stuck with me. A few years ago, Green Peak Partners and Cornell University conducted a study to see if there was something that leaders of major corporations had in common. They examined over 70 executives across several different industries who led companies from 50 million to 5 billion in annual revenue. What was it that made them successful? What they discovered was a bit surprising. Self-awareness was the strongest predictor of overall success.

If you think about it, it makes sense. A self-aware leader will be more likely to make good use of time and resources. They can also build teams to compensate for their weaknesses. The challenge is becoming self aware. We all have blind spots when it comes to seeing ourselves.

Another study conducted by the Eurich group found that while most people believe they are self aware, only about 10-15% of us actually are.* The study uncovered that there are two types of self awareness — how we see ourselves (internal) and how others see us (external). Internal self awareness is about your values, beliefs, desires, and emotional triggers. External self awareness is about how others see you.

If you are a public speaker you know that you can see a variety of responses when you look out at a crowd of people. I had the opportunity to speak weekly as a young professional. I would try to avoid eye contact with one woman who often sat near the front because she always had a scowl on her face. Over time I got to know her quite well. In fact, she was a strong supporter and advocate for me and my work. She was simply not aware that as a listener, her face did not match her intentions. Sometimes our body language, tone of voice, personal style or habits can convey things that elude us We become self aware when we grow in our understanding of how we move through the world and how others experience that movement.

It’s been quite striking to go out into the world the past couple months as facial masks are often optional now. It was a strange feeling to walk into the grocery store without a face covering for the first time. It made me feel sad as I realized it had been so long since I had seen people’s faces. I have found myself even welcoming a scowl now. It is so good to see and hear each other without a mask.

As we continue to grow into the normalcy of that again, I hope we can also become more aware of our other masks — the things we do, often unaware, that prevent us from being our true self. I hope we can have the courage to face our whole selves — the good, the bad, and the ugly. As self aware leaders of our own lives we can partner with one who can help us in our weakness. We have a God who wants to walk with us through life. He will lead us to the life we are meant to live. It is God who created us. He alone knows us completely. He alone knows what is truly best for us. ** Thomas Merton explained it this way, "Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…To work out our identity in God.”


* What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), Tasha Eurich, Harvard Business Review

** “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are.” Eph 1:11 MSG


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