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Tripping Over Your Self

by Kathy Kersten


A few months ago, I met up with some girlfriends for dinner and our conversation turned to our career ambitions. We were catching up on new projects, potential promotions and 2020 ambitions. One incredibly successful friend boldly admitted “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn more about me.”

Her statement sent my brain spinning. I looked at her kind of dumb-founded. She is in mid-life, has a successful medical career and seems so self-aware, I was surprised that this would be a goal for her. Doesn’t she know how incredible she is? The answer is “Sort of, but not really.”

This was a friendly reminder to me:

Self-awareness is a journey and there is no finish line to cross. As we grow and develop, we must keep exploring our authentic selves.

She knows that she is very skilled in her profession. She has degrees and certifications hanging in her office to prove it. She has a lot of loyal client testimonies to attest that she knows her stuff. But if I asked her “Why are you so good at your job? What makes you feel strong and successful? What sets you apart from the rest?" She doesn’t have a straight answer.

A few weeks ago, I was coaching an Executive who is making changes on their leadership team. In short, the employee in question has spent 11 months on the leadership team and has started several fires within the team. The CEO has been coaching the individual with direct feedback, but the damage the employee keeps inflicting is getting too costly. It is time to make tough decisions.

Sometimes the greatest obstacle to realizing our life goals and ambitions is ourselves. Self-awareness (and the lack of it) can be a tripwire in our careers.

During our coaching conversation, the CEO and I carefully reviewed the employee’s Top 10 Signature Themes (CliftonStrengths) to understand their motivated patterns of behavior. As we discussed the plan of removing the employee, I challenged the Executive with this question: “Is there any way you think you help them realize they are their own worst enemy?” I desperately want the employee to realize that they are the arsonist in their own career. Their flashy resume of Ivy League scholar programs cannot prevent the fact they will keep burning down every gig they take with their lack of self-awareness.

Imagine getting paid to do the work you were made to do. Is there a better definition of success? This may sound far-fetched, but it really isn’t that much of a stretch. The key is self-awareness.

Self Awareness Hacks:

  • Go Deep: Make a long list of activities (past and present) that made/make you feel strong? Then for every activity listed, ask yourself “Why?” Record your answers. Patterns WILL emerge.
  • Gather Ruthless Feedback: Ask your co-workers, friends, family, colleagues to describe you in 3 words….or 3 sentences. Ask for feedback…often. Dig for the brutal truth. Ask “What makes me successful?” “What is keeping me from being successful?” Like my dear friend, Karla Fulton says: “Feedback is a gift”
  • Grow! Keep pressing in to the things that make you successful. Opt in to activities that make you feel strong. Volunteer your strengths to others. Hone your skills in areas of strength to become known for your excellent performance in that area.

So, enroll yourself in “You-niversity” and learn what makes you unique and strong. Not only will it be time well spent, there will be fewer tripwires in your career journey.


Kathy Kersten

Gallup Certified CliftonStrengths Coach , Leadership Development expert, Mom of 3, proud Texas Aggie & host of the Obey Your Strengths podcast.

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