Choosing a Career: The Importance of Self-Awareness

young man makes a decision

Self-awareness is a popular topic in psychology. But, it also has applications in the field of career planning and guidance. It can help you improve your decision-making and a range of other skills that help you choose a suitable career.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness can be defined as the knowledge that you acquire that relate to the different facets of your personality including your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, interests, motivation and emotions. It is the process that helps you to get to know yourself better and identify your career needs.

It is usually a process that takes time and should be constant throughout your lifetime. It requires a careful analysis of one’s self, and can’t be achieved by reading a book or blog post. Quite the contrary, if you want to become more self-aware, you will have to be willing to get down and do some hard work.

Why do you need it?

Why bother becoming more self-aware? That’s easy. It has many benefits! When talking about careers, it is the first step someone needs to take towards beginning their journey of exploration. Self-awareness requires taking the time to truly get to know yourself and this means discovering what you like, what you don’t like, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, what you are good at and what you need to work on.

From this perspective, it allows you to find your natural talent and passion, directing you to your personal and professional growth. It also helps you stay true to yourself, embracing and practising your own moral values. It is important because it shows you the path to your true potential.

Getting to know yourself = Developing yourself

With self-awareness comes self-improvement. But, you need to be genuinely interested in improving yourself. This way you are more likely to take actions that can challenge you and help you develop your skills. It opens the door to new possibilities, experiences and growth.

Perhaps the biggest enemy of self-awareness is change. While change is inevitable to those who want to become better in any aspect of their lives, this is what most people are afraid of. As such, they find it easier to stick to what they already know, without trying hard enough or exploring the ‘self’ in much depth. The truth is that change is a synonym of risk and describes that kind of danger that can make you feel uncomfortable. This happens because it forces you to face your fears, identify your weaknesses and make you start again from ground zero. So, unless you are willing to change or at least take some steps towards that change e.g. deciding on a career, you won’t be able to get to know yourself better or achieve the desirable outcome.

How to do it?

Becoming more self-aware can be difficult, especially if you don’t know where to start. You may find it easier to ask other people to tell you what they think your strengths and talents are. It’s easier to focus on what you aren’t good at as opposed to what you are, and this is a problem job seekers often need to face when they are being asked the famous ‘Tell me about yourself’ question in job interviews.

Luckily, there are many easy ways to become more self-aware. Psychologists have made things a lot simpler by coming up with different techniques that aim to get you to the depth of who you are as a person. A prime example that can be very helpful to the quest of becoming more self-aware is the Johari window model, a technique that was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955. This method was used to help people understand their relationship with themselves and others to discover their blind spots – the areas they need to improve on.

As a communication model, the Johari window helps to improve understanding between individuals. It helps to build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself and getting useful feedback about yourself from them. Apart from this, it can also help you develop on a personal and professional level, improving your relationships with others and the way you work with them. This model manages to do this by focusing on elements such as ‘soft skills’, behaviour, empathy, cooperation, inter-group and interpersonal development and helping you come in terms with or recognise your feelings, experiences, views, attitudes, skills, intentions and motivation.

The Johari window includes four main ‘areas’, and each one represents different feelings, motivation or elements as mentioned above. These are divided in terms of whether the information is known or unknown by you, and whether the information is known or unknown by other people:

  • Open Area – Open Self (Arena): this represents what you already know about yourself and the things that others know about you. It includes your behaviour, knowledge, skills, attitudes and ‘public’ history.
  • Blind Area – Blind Self (Blind Spot): this represents what you aren’t aware of but are known by others.
  • Hidden Area – Avoided Self (Facade): this represents things that you know about yourself, but others don’t know.
  • Unknown Area – The Unknown Self (Unknown): this represents things that are unknown to you and others.

These four areas help to form a window of four panes like the image shows below.

johari windowBeacon Career Coaching

The goal of this method is to enlarge the Open Area to help yourself and others understand you better regarding who you are and what you need. This in turn, leads to developing emotional intelligence – EQ, the type of intelligence that allows you to recognise yours and other people’s emotions and discriminate between different feelings. It is done through self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management.  

Letting others get to know you more can be mutually beneficial as it can build trust and facilitate learning. It is particularly helpful when you need help to decide on a career, and you ask a careers adviser for guidance. A career professional is in a better position to help you out when you are giving them the kind of information about you that they need to know and can help you make a choice. The more you are willing to open up the more accurate and realistic advice you are going to get.

Apart from the Johari window, however, there are also other common and practical ways of becoming more self-aware. Let’s take a look:

Look into your past

Many career professionals would ask you to assess your hobbies to evaluate yourself carefully. While that can be effective, a better approach would be going back to the past and trying to make up a meaning of your life story so far. As weird as this sounds, understanding what makes you who you are today, requires going back to the places, the people you met and the experiences you have been through. It is probably going to take some time, but if you are serious about becoming more self-aware, it will be worth it.

Keep a reflective journal

One way of becoming more self-aware is to move around different jobs or volunteer for different activities. Exploring your choices is all about building on those experiences that can help you learn what you like or don’t like and then choose which way to go. As you move from job to job, a placement or an internship, whether it is considered to be ‘a real job’ or not, make a point to write down what you did, what happened and how you felt about it. This helps you to keep a log of your activities as well as how you felt while taking part in it. You may not be able to tell what activities you prefer most while working on your journal but once you read it, you will have a clearer idea about your needs and abilities.

Question yourself

Another way of getting to know yourself better is questioning yourself. While it might seem strange, you might want to give it a try because it works. The idea is that you question how you do things and constantly ask yourself why you do those things the way you do so. This should help you analyse your behaviour in more depth regarding the following:

  • How you relate to others
  • How you work individually and as part of a group
  • How well you respond to stress
  • How organised you are
  • How you prefer to work
  • How you manage time, etc

You can do this with any other activity you prefer as long as it doesn’t get tiring or frustrating for you. It might be better to start with the aforementioned and then proceed to the more important ones. To get this right, you may need to go back to your childhood memories or at the time when you were in school or university.

See also: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Career

In the career exploration stage, becoming more self-aware is important because your career decision is yours and should go hand in hand with your own identity, consisting of your interests, values, skills, experience and goals. If that isn’t the case, you won’t be able to enjoy the career that you have always dreamt about! Is it really worth the risk? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…