Baby Steps Toward Self-Awareness

Part of a series on acquiring elusive attributes.

Posted Oct 19, 2019

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

 “Know thyself” was first invoked by the ancient Greeks, including Socrates and Plato, and often since then, from Benjamin Franklin to the transgender character Nomi in the Netflix show Sense8.

The popularity of "Know Thyself" is understandable. After all, self-awareness is key to figuring out what to do, professionally and personally.

But “Know Thyself!” is easier said than done. Might any of these suggestions help?

Introspect in writing. In your journal or just on a piece of paper or in a word-processing file, write your strengths, the weaknesses you want to try to improve, and the weaknesses you want to just accept.

Having done that without much aforethought, try to gain insight with these probes. Think back to childhood and move forward from there: What work or other projects have been most successful and enjoyable? Where have you failed? Note any common threads and implications for the future. For example, did you work solo? With certain kinds of people? In certain environments? On certain kinds of projects — word, hands-on, people-centric, entrepreneurial, investigative, office detail?

Ask others. Readers of Psychology Today likely have already done much introspection, so much more may yield but modest additional insight. So, is there at least one person you respect whom you might ask, for example, “Like all of us, I’m trying to grow. As you know, I respect you and wonder if you’d offer your honest opinion of my strengths, weaknesses I might improve and those I’d better just accept?” Perhaps you’d find it easier to send a SurveyMonkey to a few such people, so they can be anonymous.

For what have you gotten legitimate praise? Discount praise from people with a bias: family, people paid to be encouraging such as teachers.

Consider your normative test scores. A uniform yardstick such as the SAT is at least moderately predictive of the level of career you should pursue. But please take the following as a broad guideline, not a hard and fast rule: Scores above the 90th percentile suggest you have the brainpower to do most anything — well, maybe not theoretical astrophysics. Scores from the 60th to the 90th percentile are common among for-and-non-profit managers, teachers, nurses, librarians, and counselors. Scores between the 40th and 60th percentile suggest you may find greater success in a more concrete, less abstract career: for example, a skilled trade, technician, cheffing, bookkeeping, or non-technical sales.

Look forward. You’re not necessarily chained to your past. What do you care about now? What would you like to learn more about? What could you see yourself doing careerwise? Avocationally? Consider conservative as well as bold options.

To that end, consider taking the free interest inventory at

The takeaway

After you’ve done as many of the above as you see fit, ask yourself:

  • What do I want to do more of?
  • What do I want to do less of?
  • What’s something new I want to do?
  • What strength(s) do I want to capitalize on?
  • What weakness(es) do I want to work on improving?
  • What weakness(es) should I accept about myself and find ways to minimize their impact on my life?
  • How would I describe myself in 25 words or less? In five words or less? In one word?

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series on doable baby steps toward a better life.