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Understand Yourself before anything else

The secret ingredient before any form of growth can be discussed, is understanding yourself.

The importance of really understanding yourself has not been emphasised enough. Do we really know who, and what we are? And most importantly, WHY are we who we are?

Often, we seek refuge by describing ourselves in relation to organisations or occupations that have already been branded with (more or less) recognised and affirmed characteristics. Telling people where you’re from, or what you do, gives them the impression that you fit into these roles and institutions because we assume homogeneity in specific social groups. However, can we describe ourselves for who we are? What do we live for? How do we live and want to live our lives? What’re our values? Besides being a teacher, or a student at a certain institution, or an athlete of a specific sport, these are who we are in relative, but who are we in absolute?

Imagine yourself in a hypothetical situation and think about how you would react or respond, but when it happens in reality, what does it mean when you don’t respond in congruence to how you thought you would? In which case, do we really understand ourselves and why we react the way we reacted?

There are too many stories in which we hear things like “I worked so hard to get where I wanted to be, but I’m not happy. I thought I wanted it”. It’s a common theme growing up especially during the teenage years, but have we put some serious thought into it, and what’re the repercussions if we don’t?

Challenges made apparent

Growing up without direction

Have you ever attempted to write a résumé or do up your LinkedIn profile and you start hesitating on what to include; what am I good at? Without hesitation, are we able to write 10 strengths & weaknesses about yourself and be convicted and convinced that the persona you drew up is an accurate representation of you? If our answers are “no”, these signs could underline the issue that we do not understand ourselves enough or lack the confidence to say with conviction who we are.

Kids dream and should continue to dream while growing up, but more importantly, kids need to understand the reason behind those dreams. We are all taught to dream big and have visions for ourselves in what we want to achieve. But as propaganda sell us ideas of where we should be or what we should do, do we understand why we are chasing after them and if it’s something we want? Reality is harsh, perhaps only 5% of us get to where we want to be eventually in life. Many kids get crushed, and lose direction when things don’t go according to planned. Parents and teachers struggle to guide them through life because they grow despondent about the future. How’re we preparing our kids to face the future in the VUCA world?

Disruption happens, and what’s next?

For some of us, we may occupy ourselves and fill our time with priorities such as climbing the corporate ladder, raising our children, or getting an education et cetera but the only thing that is constant in this world is Change. Change is inevitable, and when our lives are disrupted, what used to keep us occupied may no longer serve its purpose. Not knowing ourselves well slows the process of moving forward, giving rise to what people experience; the Existential / Identity Crisis.

The Solution? – Know Yourself before anything else

Knowing others is Intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power

– Lao Tzu

Regardless of what you want to achieve in life, it all starts with knowing yourself. This concept is not something new, but it is often neglected. Sun Tzu said, “Know thyself know thy enemy“. Notice how “thyself” came before “thy enemy“, underlining the importance of Knowing Yourself before anything else. When we attend workshops or Masterclasses aimed at improving interactions and relationships with people, we are often presented with various frameworks and theories that allow us to understand behaviours. Regardless of which framework is being taught or applied, they work with the same mechanism; relating to ourselves. It’s about understanding ourselves FIRST, and learning how to manage our interactions with others.

Identify your Life Philosophy, and your Values.

It is often mistaken that Philosophy and Values are the same, but they are not. They are different levels of thought. In a study of Grit by Angela Duckworth, one of the frameworks which she used to illustrate how to teach Grit is the Hierarchy of Goals. The idea was that the lower level goals should support the goals one level up, which eventually all will lead to 1 Top-level Goal.

Relating to our context, the Top-level Goal would be our Life Philosophy, which sets the parameters of how we want to live your life, or the purpose we set out to achieve from it. The Mid-level goals, would then be the Values which supports our Life Philosophy, and the Low-level Goal would be how actions / behaviour and all these tiers align together that guide the way we live by providing a direction of where we are heading toward. If they don’t work out, it’s easier to know what to change and over time determine if we are still aligned to our Life Philosophy.

Understanding your Personality, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Like any career counselling session, it’s a good start to know yourself through psychometric tests. There are many free tools we can access online, but some of the more popular ones are the DISC and MBTI tests. The key ideas to takeaway from the psychometric tests are how we interact with others, what’re our strengths and weaknesses, and also what are the typical pitfalls we fall into through our daily lives. We must however caution against framing ourselves within the parameters in which the tool describes us and the way we interact. These tools are derived with the intention to better understand ourselves and leveraging on such knowledge to thrive and flourish in life.

Establish your Personal Branding

Why is it important to have a Personal Brand, and what is Personal Branding all about? Personal Branding goes to the next level of understanding yourself, but letting others know who you are. It’s not about letting others see who we are not, but who we are and what we are good at; knowing our strengths & weaknesses, interests, and capabilities, making ourselves known for it, and aligning our actions and values to it. A strong personal brand in congruence to your values and philosophy further validates your character, and provides direction to your growth trajectory as an individual.

What’s next?

After clearly underlining and articulating your life philosophy and values, allow it to be a guide in your life pursuits. While changes are inevitable and our paths may change along the way, having a general direction toward where we are headed and what is important to us reduces the time in which we spend finding ourselves, and thinking about how we can prepare for the next phase in life. And as our lives evolve, so must we in response to the VUCA world. As we explore our identities further, we may wish to consider the 4 Self-Awareness Archetypes and remember that we are never on this journey of life alone.

Just as how learning never stops, neither does self-discovery and awareness ever cease. Constantly review, and revisit these concepts from time to time to recenter ourselves and truly understand ourselves before everything else.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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