Although I was excited to be there, my expectations were not clear. After all, I knew who I was - in my 30s, well-educated, with a growing family, and 10 years of work experience. I liked country music, playing guitar, hitting a golf ball, and studying leading-edge marketing concepts and human behavior.
But after several days of listening, processing, and learning, I realized I didn’t know many essential things about myself. I had never clearly identified my strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t understand the impact they had on my performance. I had no vision for the next chapter of my life, and I couldn’t describe what success for me would look like. I knew this had to change.
That was 30 years ago, and the occasion was a weeklong personal growth workshop at The L.D. Pankey Institute. It was a turning point, the beginning of my journey of self-discovery. The journey continues today.
If you read this column regularly, I hope you are developing a deeper understanding of yourself. Why is this important? Well, have you ever made the wrong decision about an issue, even after carefully analyzing the situation? You identified several options, the pros and cons were clear, you made your decision with confidence, yet it was the wrong one. Why did this happen? Did your lack of self-knowledge have anything to do with it?
A blend of confidence and caution
Self-knowledge is an aspect of emotional intelligence. The ability to know and manage yourself is the first step to unleashing your potential. But what should you know and why should you know it? Begin by identifying and understanding what you are good at - your gifts and signature talents. These are the skills, behaviors, and thinking patterns that distinguish you from others. With this knowledge, you can move boldly and take advantage of the best you have to offer. In other words, build your life around your strengths. Studies show that you will be more “engaged” with your life and work when you use your best talents. Your performance, fulfillment, and confidence will increase, as will your awareness of your undeveloped potential.
Further expand your self-knowledge by identifying what you are not good at doing. Know your limitations and have the courage to acknowledge them to yourself and others. Proceed cautiously in these areas of weakness, and surround yourself with people who possess the abilities you lack. Discipline yourself to delegate to them where appropriate. You will avoid the “failure traps” that stifle creativity and hinder performance.
The gift of feedback
How do you determine your strengths and weaknesses? Look to your life experiences. What is working? What isn’t? What does this tell you about yourself and how effectively you use your self-knowledge?
Seek feedback from others. Robbie Burns once said, “What a rich gift it would be to see ourselves as others see us. It would free us from blunders and foolish notions.” Sincere dialogue with trusted friends and advisors can provide valuable input. A popular tool for eliciting how others see us is called “360 Feedback” - feedback from colleagues, friends, team members, and patients. A credentialed coach can help you apply the right feedback instrument for your needs.
This knowledge alone is not enough, however. Unleashing your potential will depend on how effectively you use these insights. Have the confidence to be open to this information, the courage to remain nondefensive, and the willingness to consider what you learn. By doing so, you may uncover hidden strengths. You may also identify your blind spots - those things you don’t see about yourself that get in the way and hold you back.
None of us is a finished product. We are all a work in progress. Becoming who you want to be tomorrow starts with knowing who you are today! Are you comfortable with your answer to, “And who are you?”
If you would like our learning resources list of books that supports our 2005 columns, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Young, MBA, and spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn’s insights into people and relationships and coaching skills complement Doug’s motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at email@example.com, by phone at 877-DMYOUNG (369-6864), or visit their Web site at www.dmyoung.com.