Awareness of Self and Belonging

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I found myself completely floored during one of my peer coaching sessions this week. A colleague said, “coaching is about increasing the client’s self-awareness. You can make better choices when you have self-awareness.” She said this casually and continued on with her train of thought. Such a simple sentence felt like a bombshell. Even now while writing this, I continue to turn those words over and over in my mind.

In the most straightforward definition of the word, self-awareness means “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.” Self-awareness seeks to answer who am I? And, how do I define myself? There can be a beautiful (if not, at times, terrifying) unfolding when one examines who and how they are. Awareness of your self can lead to greater insights into your self in relation to others.

The practice of self-awareness needn’t be consigned to your personal life. In fact, fostering a culture of self-awareness within your team — whether you are the stated manager of that team, or not — is vital. When so many of us are experiencing the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of surviving 2020, self-awareness practices can strengthen our bond with one another and bring about a sense of truly belonging.

As part of a recent company meeting, we participated in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training with Dr. Nika White who introduced the concept of belonging as a factor within DEI. Belonging is a sense of fitting in or feeling like you are an important, valued member of a group. We often experience belonging (or not belonging) on a gut, intuitive level. Leading with self-awareness, it can be easier to find and apply the right language of belonging. A big part of creating a culture of belonging is acknowledging and fostering the differences between us. When we deny that differences exist, or are unwilling to recognize them, we stifle individuality and individual expression. This can manifest as self-censorship, conforming to the “norm,” and ultimately denying parts of an individual’s experience. If there is one lesson I am learning in 2020 it’s that we can only make it through this thing we call life when we all work together.

One tool that I was introduced to fairly early in my corporate career was Strengths Finder. Strengths Finder is a personal development tool that helps individuals identify the areas where they, or their teams, have the greatest potential for building strength. The tool shows you your top talents, but it takes time and dedicated effort to turn a talent into a strength.

The first time I saw my Strengths Finder report I was mortified to see Achiever and Competition as my top 1 and 2 talents. I felt so exposed (though no one knew my results except for me) like everyone would be able to see who I really was. The experience made me feel incredibly vulnerable. It was in that moment that I realized how hard I had worked to mask who I was. I was conforming to a stereotype of what I thought a successful businesswoman was in my head. And she wasn’t outspoken, visibly driven, and most definitely wasn’t competitive! Rightly or wrongly, I internalized this ideal archetype and was denying huge aspects of my personality, my leadership style, and, ultimately, my uniqueness.

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It’s no wonder I felt like I couldn’t fit anywhere — I wasn’t accepting who I really was!

Embracing those uncomfortable parts of myself has been my focus for the last several years. Now, there’s little distinction between who I am at work with who I am outside of work. And the more I encourage this integration, the more I experience a stronger sense of belonging everywhere.

The ripple effects of gaining more self-awareness can be felt in our connections with others as well. With the people I coach, with my colleagues at work, and with my friends and family, I focus on intentionally cultivating an environment of belonging so that everyone can bring forward who they truly are.