Self Awareness: Recognizing all your strengths

In the new book The Art of Doing: How Super Achievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well, the authors argue that the single common thread of effectiveness and productivity amongst diverse do-ers such as Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh and high-wire artist Philippe Petit is a strong quality of self-awareness.

We usually talk about this quality early in the Personal Impact seminar, and it can seem obvious.  There are many anecdotes from famous people–great men and women–and these are vivid, powerful tools, models for us all.

But sometimes the famous quip or CEO story isn’t the thing that resonates most on a personal level.  It’s where we SEE someone choose to make a slight adjustment – in the moment – in how they come across.  And sometimes this powerful choice comes from a sudden insight into themselves – a “eureka” moment of self-awareness.

I had a client once in New Jersey.  We’ll call her Barbara.  She was terrified of public speaking.  She said she felt like she literally got “shaky” when she stood up to speak before a professional group of any size.  We got talking.  Barbara was a relaxed, funny, self-effacing, tough and smart executive.  Somehow that self-assured person went dormant the moment she rose to present, and she got shaky.

Barbara reminded me of my aunt and other women I knew growing up not far away.  On a hunch, I asked her if she had kids.  “Yep, two”, she said.  I asked if she was nervous and shaky speaking to them. “Of course not. I’m Mom.”  I asked her what was so special about being Mom that made her feel in charge and relaxed.  “That’s just who I am.”

Exactly!  “Why can’t you bring Mother Courage into work?”, I asked.  “No one needs to know that you’re speaking to them as ‘Mom Barbara’.  But have her with you when you stand up.”  She’d not seen it that way before, she said.  Now, we agreed, of course, that she wasn’t going to patronize her professional audience, but that she was going to remember who she is in total and bring that total, grounded (spaghetti-cooking, homework-checking, bill-paying competent parent) persona into work as an asset.

We tried practising her presentation some more and I saw instantly that she was making a choice to use her full awareness of her self. She was anchoring herself to the part of her life where she feels most certain. I saw her relax, breathe, laugh, and stop shaking.  This is actually an old actors’ trick – substituting the way you feel in one circumstance and laying that attitude over a completely different circumstance.  It quickly feels the same.  It’s the mind-body connection: if it feels strong, you will start to believe it is (and you are) strong, and you’ll look strong, feel even stronger, and make a big impact on your audience.

  • Take a personal inventory
  • Check in on your assets and strengths in all aspects of your life. 
  • Think of when do you feel most in charge
  • Bring that aspect of your personality into work–especially when you feel least in charge!


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