The Price We Pay for Self-Awareness

The Price We Pay for Self-Awareness

A goal many of us have is to become more self-aware, introspective, and mindful.

The benefits of self-awareness range from increased mindfulness of our place in the world to a greater ability to interact with others to a steeper learning curve and perhaps all the way to enlightenment (if one is Buddhist, that is). Introspection is seen as a way forward, a necessary step to self-development, and a naturally good element of anyone’s ability to empathize with others. Those who are not introspective are often referred to as ‘stubborn,' ‘oblivious,' or ‘tactless.' It’s not fun to work with someone or be friends with someone who is not self-aware. Of course, no one is perfectly self-aware. We all have our blind spots. Advancing or improving to become more self-aware is generally the goal.

The observed self results in personal growth only after many episodes of challenged and tortured thinking. The discomfort, guilt, or anxiety that comes from the realization that we are imperfect is not something to shy away from. It is indeed the price we pay for self-awareness. This tuition is not cheap! Moving from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, to unconscious competence is a tremendously difficult journey: particularly a movement from the unconscious to conscious is a step that is particularly painful for many of us.

Why is that? While it might sound simple, it’s because changing ourselves is one of the hardest things in the world. While there might be some things about ourselves that we don’t love, changing is even scarier. We much prefer the devil we know compared to the devil we don’t. Plus - if we try to change and fail, then that would be horrific! In addition to being imperfect we’d also be a failure. Wouldn’t that be the worst?

There may be no force greater than human inertia. It’s devilishly difficult to dislodge. Without self-awareness, there’s no chance of ever dislodging it in the first place. So the difficulty of behavioral change lies in both the assessment of what to change and why it is so as well as the commitment to make the change. Once the plan or interest to make a change to improve the self has been identified, there cannot be further internal back-and-forth about whether or not it’s working without giving it much of a chance to actually made a difference.

Imagine if you took great time and care and pain to find that you wanted to become more patient. After hearing feedback from two friends, one colleague, and a family member that you lose your temper too quickly, you decide that becoming more patient is something that you must invest time in. With that, you diagnose that the optimal method of increasing patience is to meditate three times per week. After the first week, you feel marginally more patient. But after the second week you conclude that the expected payoffs are not happening quickly enough. You decide to stop the meditation habit and go back to the previous stage of diagnosing the problem again.

You’ve gone through the messiest and toughest stuff, the grappling with discomfort, guilt, and anxiety of your impatience. You’ve gone through the brutal thinking of realizing that change is necessary. You’ve gone through the most difficult stage and suffered through it, but still won’t reap the benefits. By not committing to the solution, even if imperfect, for an extended period of time, you’ve eliminated the actual chances of improvement upon the foundation you set for yourself. You'll get the bitter without the sweet.

As a collective, self-awareness becomes exponentially more challenging yet no less important. The inherent difficulty to an organization everyone approaches the process of organizational self-awareness and introspection with a different lens. It’s the beautiful power of diversity. Simultaneously it creates opportunities for misunderstandings.

One person may observe a problem or issue through a microscope and another through a magnifying glass. A third may view the issue through their regular eyes and a fourth through a telescope. Everyone, while recognizing the same issue is present, will see the problems at a different level of significance. For some, it becomes ‘mission critical’ to solve while for others the problem is still far away. For some, the problem is in the center of their vision while for others the problem looks tiny compared to another larger problem adjacent to it. The super tough part is that everyone’s right to hold their own opinions on it!

So what to do?

When an organization is growing, priorities or projects change rapidly. One might hear:

“Isn’t it so obvious we need to stop Project A?" “Why are we still doing Project B when Project C is more important?” “Honestly, how is Initiative D still not fixed?” “Team E doesn’t even support us on Project F. What gives?"

The answers to those questions may in fact have a simple answer. "Yes,

Project A does need to be stopped.” "Initiative D isn’t fixed because it’s not an organizational priority.” "Team E wants to help, but the team working on Project F never made it clear what support was needed." The answers to those questions may also have more complex answers. There might not be a clear black or white response. Project B may feel more important to one team while Project C is more important to another. Project X may grow revenue while Project Y may grow customer satisfaction. Team P may need to focus broadly on a long-term initiative while Team Q may need to focus on driving results this quarter.

To be clear: it’s the responsibilities of the leaders of the organization, team, or unit to both 1) encourage introspection even though it is a challenges, and 2) provide enough context to the entire team to understand why a certain problem deserves a microscope at this moment and a telescope at another. It’s definitely something we must improve on and I’ll admit it’s something I’m struggling with. What appears clear in my microscope or in my telescope is my responsibility to ensure that everyone else, though you may not agree 100%, can at least see what I see.

Once that self-awareness and introspection process happens - just like every individual - commitment to follow-through is necessary. Otherwise there is the pain and difficulty of grappling with it.

My excitement for 2020 is that we receive open and honest feedback, criticism, suggestions, and ideas for where we should prioritize our efforts and also how to reach our 2020 goals. The process of self-awareness as an organization has to come from every direction - we’ve collected clear and mostly actionable feedback from the team in terms of what we can do to improve the work experience at LearningLeaders. Also, we can need to continue collecting feedback from the market. Our customers speak to us every day with their feedback and suggestions if we are wise enough to listen. It may not be fun to hear all of the feedback, but it’s necessary so that we know where we stand. And I absolutely relish it because the absence of feedback restricts self-awareness, which will lead to the death of improvement.

My fear for 2020 is once we solidify our goals for the year and make the deliberate prioritizations necessary to get us to our goals, we experience continued disagreement of things that *won’t* change for a period of time. If, after committing to a direction in February, my fear is that in March we hear, “I never really agreed with it in the first place, so it doesn’t really bother me if we don’t reach the goal.”

This. Can’t. Be. Happening.

It’s a prime example of only viewing the company through the lens of one microscope. It’s a prime example of all of the bitter with none of the sweet. The price we pay for self-awareness does not need to be for nothing.