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Who are you? This can be both a simple and a daunting question at the same time. To make things even more complicated, you might change in small ways from moment to moment, and in larger ways from year to year. You are not (nor should you be!) stagnant, and it’s natural to grow and evolve as you move forward in life.

That’s what being human is all about.

This past year (a year that seemed about a decade long at times!), you might have shifted more than usual. Many of us had to reinvent ourselves and adapt to new life situations as we worked from home, attended video conferences, tutored our children at home, and were less able to enjoy public spaces. Shaking up your basic lifestyle might have forced you to discover new sides of yourself or lean into underdeveloped sides. Maybe you realized you’re more extroverted and social than you thought you were. Maybe you found that you actually enjoy working at home and setting your own schedule. 

Whether or not this past year brought substantial change for you, the fact remains that you are a complex, multi-faceted person and it’s difficult to thrive if you’re not embracing your whole self. Yes, that means acknowledging your trouble spots, too. You can’t work on changing those trouble areas if you ignore their existence.

To me, owning who you are means…

…Sticking closely to your values

Though you may change slightly from day to day, your core values should not. Unless you’ve had a major change of heart and have had to re-examine some fundamental areas in your life, your values should be one of the consistent features of your personality. Embrace them; live by them. Don’t compromise your values for a promotion or to fit in with others.

…Recognizing your strengths and the areas where you struggle

Whether you recognize it or not, I know you are multi-talented with an array of valuable skills. Perhaps you’re an excellent listener or someone who is good at analyzing data. Perhaps you’re highly organized. Or, maybe you’re creative in certain areas or are an innovative thinker. Don’t be afraid to recognize your skills (or interests) and lean into them. Capitalizing on your abilities will not only benefit you, but also your co-workers and anyone else around you. Your skills are a gift—use them!

On the other side of the coin, it’s valuable to understand and face your shortcomings. You could take two approaches: 1) Think of them as “areas of opportunity” and do your best to learn or improve or 2) Recognize that certain tasks/methods/activities/etc. are not for you and stick to what you know. If, for example, you are well-aware that you are much more of a creative person than an analytical one, it’s better to entrust others with data analysis and data-driven strategy. You’ll be doing everyone (including yourself!) a favor if you focus on what you do best.

…Consistently being yourself

Have you ever met someone who acted completely different around different groups of people? They seemed to be one person, then another—changing personalities like shoes.

Behaving in such a way can be off-putting and can leave people wondering who the real you is. That isn’t to say you can’t modify your behavior in certain situations with certain people. Of course you’ll act differently if you’re grabbing a casual cup of coffee with friends than you would at a company meeting. However, your core self can (and should!) remain consistent. Think of yourself like an M&M that comes in a variety of different colors—you’re still chocolate in the middle! And you’re not morphing from an M&M to a Twix bar to a Gummy Bear.

In sum: it’s fine to present the many shades of your personality. It gets problematic when you’re willing to compromise your values or completely change your thoughts, opinions, or beliefs when you’re around certain people.

Own who you are.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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If you’re hoping to improve yourself this year, one of the fundamental steps you can take is to build your self-awareness. Even if you think you know yourself decently well, you can always dig deeper. What’s more, it’s possible you’ve changed a bit over the years (or even in the last year!), and it’s a good idea to become reacquainted with the new you.

Why work on self-awareness?

Becoming self-aware will not only help to improve yourself, your communication, your skillsets, etc., it will also benefit those around you. When you understand, for instance, that you do your best work when you collaborate with others and communicate openly and frequently, you can voice those preferences to others.

Another example: If you’re introspective and like to think about every angle of a problem before proposing a solution, it’s a good idea to let others know that as well. In a team meeting, you might say something like, “These are all great questions. I’d like to mull them over and take a look at the data before offering my ideas.” By articulating your preferences, others will begin to understand that you’re not just sitting silently in meetings because you have nothing to contribute. You just prefer to assess all the data before speaking up.

By becoming self-aware, you also equip yourself with some extra empathy. You start to realize that not everyone enjoys working, communicating, thinking, or interacting in the same manner. Whereas you might prefer swift action and timely results, others may find comfort in taking their time and exploring multiple angles of a problem before acting. By learning more about your own preferences, you also open yourself up to the idea that not everyone thinks or acts in the way you do, and that is okay.

How do you increase self-awareness?

That is the question, isn’t it? You can’t just snap your fingers and become more self-aware overnight. It’s a process that involves paying attention, retrospection, and reflection. To get started on your journey to greater self-awareness, you might consider taking an evaluative test. Though this may seem like a simplistic approach, it’s really not. Assessment tests (ones used by professionals, at least) can be incredibly insightful and thought-provoking. Not all tests are created equal, so do a little research before you pick you. My favorite is Insights Discovery®, for a few different reasons:

1) It’s science-based and relies on principles of famed psychiatrist Carl Jung.

2) The findings are presented in easy to understand, easy to discuss language.

3) Insights® does not pigeonhole people or claim that a person is ONE specific way, ALL the time. Rather, it emphasizes that people tend to lean toward certain tendencies and behaviors, and all are capable of embracing their opposite tendencies from time to time (e.g. Those who are usually introverted have the capability of developing or “turning on” extroverted behavior).

Beyond using assessment tests, you could also read books dedicated to self-awareness (The Untethered Soul and Emotional Agility come to mind, but there are MANY books on this topic). You could also work with a coach, counselor, or other professional to help guide you down the right path.

Lastly, building self-awareness takes time and effort. You’ll need to make a conscious effort to really sit down, examine yourself and your behaviors, and think about what steps you can take, going forward. And remember: Being self-aware is a great first step, but it’s not quite enough. Once you’ve gained a little more self-awareness, it’s up to you to do something with your newfound knowledge. Lean on your strengths. Articulate your work and communication preferences. Acknowledge the areas where you struggle and strategize on how to improve them.

Self-improvement is a never-ending journey, and self-awareness is but one important step on that road.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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orange shoes walking up stairs

This past year, it’s been difficult to feel in control of anything. Work situations have changed, family dynamics have been altered, and our basic lifestyles have had to adjust. We’ve had to rethink even our most basic activities, such as going to the grocery store or sending our kids off to school. With so much out of our control, let’s take a moment to focus on what is within our control…namely, YOU.

No matter what the year ahead will bring, we can always focus on self-improvement. This way of thinking is not selfish—it’s essential. If we do our best to be our best, everything around us tends to improve: relationships, workplace interactions, productivity. Thus, self-improvement can (and often does) actually lead to vast improvements in our external world.

Where can you focus your attention?

Here are five different ideas. Over the next five weeks, I’ll be covering each area in greater depth. For now, a summary:

1. Improve Self-Awareness

You may think you know yourself fairly well, but we all have blind spots. Digging deep into your strengths, communication preferences, modes for interacting with others, areas where you’re struggling, etc. can help you become more confident, productive, and efficient. Not only that, improving your self-awareness can also help you better tune in to the needs and preferences of others.

Begin your self-awareness journey by taking a recommended assessment test (my favorites are Insights Discovery® and Insights Deeper Discovery®), talking with a career coach, reading books that discuss self-awareness, or simply making a concerted effort to pay attention to your thoughts and actions, and the motives behind them.

2. Own Who You Are

As our work patterns and lives have changed, other sides of ourselves may have emerged. Perhaps you’ve surprised yourself with how you’ve adapted to this year’s many changes . Maybe you’ve found that you enjoy working at home or, on the flip side, maybe you’ve realized that you enjoy the company of co-workers more than you realized!

Regardless of how much you have or have not changed over the past year, one thing is certain: You are multi-faceted, and it’s a good idea to learn to embrace all sides of yourself. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve in certain areas (there’s always room for improvement). What it does mean is that you shouldn’t shy away from your true self—the person at the core of your being.

3. Practice Self-Kindness

You likely have a lot of practice in forgiving others for their mistakes. If someone is late for a Zoom meeting or has to bow out of a commitment, we tend to forgive them and move on. If a friend is struggling to keep their house clean because they simply have too much on their plate, we laugh and say, “That’s okay! I understand.”

Are you as forgiving with yourself? Or do you beat yourself up over the little things? It’s time to be kind to yourself. Forgive your small mistakes, take breaks when you need them, and don’t worry about falling short of perfection. 

4. Get Flexible

No, I’m not talking about stretching and doing more yoga (though, that couldn’t hurt!). This year, we’ve all had to stretch outside our comfort zones, and I see no sign of that stopping. Workplaces will continue to adapt, relationships will evolve, and technology will constantly change. Are you ready?

The more willing you are to be adaptable and roll with the punches, the better off you’ll be. No one can predict what’s next, but one thing is certain: Change is inevitable. To get yourself comfortable with change, practice putting yourself in new, uncertain situations. Challenge yourself and make a concerted effort to grow. This might entail signing up for an online class, attending a virtual webinar with a group of strangers, or taking on a project that will have to stretch your skillset.

5. Improve Communication

One of the great lessons of this past year is that communication is essential. For many of us, we’ve had to greatly alter the way we interact with others. Instead of popping into a nearby cubicle and asking a question, we have to set up meetings or write emails. Instead of dropping by a friend or neighbor’s house, we’ve had to be intentional with our get-togethers and respectful of boundaries.

But how much have you actually thought about the ways and methods of your communication? Are your communication systems working like a charm? Or, could they be improved?

It’s possible all those video chats aren’t necessary. It’s also possible (probable, really) that some people will prefer one style of communication, while others will prefer an entirely different style. It helps to pay attention. When is communication flowing smoothly and the conversation is bearing fruit? And when does it feel forced and counter-productive? It could be time to rethink the frequency and modes of communication between yourself and others.

Let’s start the new year off right. Take the time to focus on improving yourself, your interactions with others, and your adaptability. Even small changes can make an enormous difference.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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