August 2015

The Need for Self-Awareness and Self-Improvement

By Bill Maw

  BillAre you self-aware? You’ve likely met at least one person who lacks self-awareness—people who bully others, resist suggestions with stubbornness, and hold a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude. People with a healthy sense of self-awareness are adaptable, set a good example for others, are comfortable with themselves, willing to try new things, and take some risks. Of course, no one is perfect, we must work to enhance our self-awareness and to take advantage of opportunities for improvement.

The “Little Kid” Inside All of Us

I think it’s fair to say that each of us has a “little kid” inside. We see that "little kid" come out and misbehave at times, maybe after too much alcohol or when we get tired, hungry, playful, or emotionally hurt.

I confess that my “little kid” is present most days―when making funny faces at myself in the mirror when I get up in the morning or talking silly to my dog. Occasionally, I behave worse than my two young boys. Many times in the course of serious meetings I find myself thinking about nonsensical subjects. How has your “little kid” behaved recently? Is she under control? Are you taking care of her properly?

Confronting Our Past and The Inferiority Complex

Our lives are often shaped by our distant past. Some crave for nostalgic memories and experiences while others fear them. There is a substantial body of literature that deals with the difficulty of confronting our past and explores the causes of our hidden guilt. The family is a focal point of research, particularly the relationship with parents and siblings. Those of us, most of us, who have gone through difficult times secretly harbor feelings of guilt that prevent us from making our dreams come true. Lewis Engel and Tom Ferguson explore these issues in their fascinating book Imaginary Crimes – Why We Punish Ourselves and How To Stop.

In an effort to overcompensate perceived weaknesses we often develop inferiority complexes that are the catalysts for tremendous success or antisocial behavior. But overcompensating could lead to the opposite condition: a superiority complex that among other things hampers interactions with people and, oddly enough, can result in low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence.

Two of my personal problems are the nagging thought that I could have achieved more and its related emotion: lack of fulfillment from what I have accomplished. This, despite the fact that in more than one way I have been successful: I have a happy, healthy family, a fun, challenging job, I am surrounded by smart work colleagues, I make a good living.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about people who dream to become artists but because they are discouraged or quit, they end up inhabiting the world of could-have-beens, which is full of regrets. She further explains that those who don't follow their dreams often settle working in the “outskirts.” For example, the aspiring singer resigns himself to write songs for someone else, the aspiring actor becomes a playwright. When I read this book I realized that I was really a “shadow entrepreneur”―I had always desired to become an entrepreneur, but instead of becoming a founder or a CEO I lived on the outskirts as a CFO. What happened? Well, my father was not a risk taker, he believed that it was dangerous to travel twisty roads. Partly because of his influence I decided to enter the stable accounting profession which, although rewarding in certain ways, in reality never satisfied my burning desire of entrepreneurship, but instead produced a sense of emptiness, something that at first sight might look puzzling. The reader might wonder what am I doing about this? Well, I am now investing in startups, advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, making an effort to become financially independent.

Do you have a “Shadow Career” from which you are running away or an inferiority complex that holds you back or hurts your progress? What can you do to confront these problems and fulfill your dreams?

Getting The Proper Support System

There are many varieties of coaching: life coaching, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) coaching, business coaching, executive coaching, career coaching, etc. The American Psychological Association indicates that undiagnosed ADHD affects millions of adults and their relationships. Adult ADHD symptoms include difficulty getting organized, extreme distractibility, poor listening skills, restlessness, chronic lateness, angry outbursts, and difficulty prioritizing tasks. Having said that, where there is a negative, there is often also a positive. Positive characteristics of ADHD can include endless energy, great imagination, spontaneity, hyper-focus, humor, strong problem-solving skills, sensible risk-taking ability, and courage to follow one's intuition. The key is to strike a balance between positives and negatives, which can be achieved when one operates in a good environment and has access to support systems. My youngest son suffers from ADHD. His moods and behavior at home sometimes are challenging. But he has strengths and abilities that absolutely amaze and amuse us, including his out-of-the box thinking, humor, and creativity. When he is passionate about something, like Minecraft or other electronic games, he is highly engaged and focused.

Think about your own strengths and weaknesses in any given project. What sort of support system works best for you?

Three Things You Can Do To Self-Improve

Self-awareness and self-improvement are critical components of happiness and success. The beginning point is willingness and desire. Developing self-awareness and making strides in self-improvement require painful commitment, but the reward is well worth the sacrifice. You'll develop the ability to deal effectively with problems (e.g., intimidation and bullying) and setbacks (e.g., disappointment). Here is what you must do:

  1. Take care of the “little kid” in you with mindful eating, proper sleep, exercise and possible holistic therapy. Remember that, as Stephen Nachmanovitch said, “the most potent muse of all is our own inner child.”
  2. Get independent feedback, embrace your imperfections, and leverage your strengths. At all times be authentic—be your true self!
  3. Avoid band-aids and get a coach now. Start early in your life.
  4. Remember: nothing really works unless you show up, commit yourself, and do the hard work.

Bill Maw is the author of The Work-Life Equation: Six Key Values That Drive Happiness and Success. He is also a business executive, social entrepreneur and mentor. He has more than 30 years of workplace experience with large-, mid- and small-sized companies around the world where he has witnessed astonishing success stories and spectacular failures. Visit Work Life Equation for more information and follow Bill on Twitter @billmaw. Also visit Amazon.