Self-awareness in your career: it’s more important than you think it is
It was my first day of work and I was about to fall asleep in a meeting. It was hot and I was tired from being nervous all night and I kept having to force my eyes open. Oh, and it was boring and I didn’t understand anything.
I think that’s how I knew that maybe this wasn’t quite the job for me.
I knew I wanted to do something different. Something I’d be excited about. But what?
And then I went on a training course, about some sort of leadership, and I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be the trainer.
The way she presented, her knowledge, her confidence… yes. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to train people.
I was worried that I’d only been at the company for a couple of months, and worried about introducing myself and telling her I wanted to work for her, but changing my life was more important than worrying about changing it.
I introduced myself and told her how much I’d enjoyed that and how impressed I was and that I wanted to work for her.
She said she didn’t have any jobs going at the moment but that we should keep in touch.
I made sure we did. I left nothing to chance. I put catch up meetings in her diary every month. We talked and got to know each other and got to like each other.
And then, one day, many months later, an email. Telling me that one of the people who worked for her was leaving and that she’d like me to interview for the job.
She interviewed me and she got another couple of people from her team to interview me.
I knew I didn’t have any experience in what I wanted to do and she knew it too. So I focussed on what I wanted to learn, how intensely I’d learn, what a good job I knew I’d be able to do because of how important this was to me.
Having no experience has nothing to do with convincing someone you can do a job.
I got the job.
Finally, I’d be doing something I knew I’d love to do.
A couple of restructures later, I’d been moved from a job in leadership training to a job in operational training. And I hated it.
I never pretended to be sick or injured. But I was sick or injured quite a bit. Whether it was conjunctivitis, back spasms, or the common cold, I had quite a few days off.
Too many, apparently. I had to have an absence review meeting because my attendance percentage was too low.
They asked me loads of boring questions that I can’t remember anything about but one question stuck out and still sticks out.
“Why do you think you’ve been off work this many times?”
I paused. It was like they were accusing me. And that made me angry.
So I used that anger. I realised I was being given an excuse to say everything I’d held back from saying. I realised that I could take advantage of this.
I said “well… I honestly think it’s because I’m not enjoying my job.”
I told them about how I’d been moved from my job in leadership training, which I’d enjoyed, to a job in operational training, which I’d not enjoyed, to another kind of job in operational training, which I’d grown to loath.
I told them that not once had I been asked about any kind of preference. Not once had I even been told what was going to happen. I told them that one day I’d come to work to find my manager had been let go, my director had been let go, another manager who I was working with had been let go… and there’d no explanation or information about where I was supposed to go on Monday morning.
“So, yeah… that’s probably why.”
They had no idea what to say.
Good, I thought.
There were some other formalities to go through and then the meeting was over and my manager, who was in the meeting, went back upstairs.
The HR person said she wanted to talk to me. I felt a moment of panic. Had I gone too far?
She said “I didn’t realise that all this had happened to you. We’ve got to get you out of that job. We’ve got to move you.”
I was shocked. Seriously? This was happening?
“Thank you,” I said.
It had been a couple of months since the HR person had been so kind to me and said those things and… nothing much had happened.
I’d had a couple of meetings with people about different jobs. Jobs that would be promotions, which I was pleased about. But nothing was changing as fast as I wanted it to change.
I felt powerless. Every important decision that needed to be made about my future at the company wasn’t being made by me. It was being made by my manager, and my potential new managers, and by HR.
I didn’t know what else I could do.
And then came along the best opportunity I’d ever had in that company.
I was asked to film the Chief People Officer giving a short speech about yet another restructure that was happening in the company.
Why me? Because we were the team that dealt with operational training and were known for being technical and being able to create videos and blah blah blah. Because we were that team and I was the only one who was free when the Chief People Officer was free.
The Chief People Officer worked directly for the CEO of the company. She was about 6 levels of management above me. She seemed almost unreal but I was about to get to spend half an hour with her.
I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity but how? How could I get something from this? Yes, I was going to be videoing her. But that wasn’t enough. There was a chance at something more.
We had 30 minutes booked in and the video only took about 10 minutes. So, knowing I had time, I was about to take advantage of my opportunity.
I told her that I’d seen her speak in front of hundreds at a company event and how much I’d been in awe of her. I told her that I wanted to be able to do what she did. I told her that, if it were at all possible, I’d love to have just one hour of her time to learn from her.
I’d been nervous but I’d done it.
She said “well, I have 20 minutes now. Let’s sit down and talk.”
I hadn’t expected that.
I was thinking of things to ask, smart things to ask, because I had to impress her and I had to impress her NOW.
My mind was somewhere else while I was sitting down but she brought me back to reality.
“So, Matt, tell me… who is Matt?”
I smiled. Was she trying to catch me out? Or was she genuinely curious about this person who was 6 levels of management beneath her but had still just asked for an hour of her time?
Either way, this was the opportunity I’d been looking for. This was my chance to tell her that I was being wasted in my job and that the company would do better to put me somewhere else.
I told her what was important to me. I told her why it was important to me. I told her how I was doing something at work that wasn’t important to me. I told her that I knew of some jobs in which I could do things that were important to me and how could that not be a good thing for the company?
I told her without moaning. I told her without just listing my problems.
I told her the facts. I told her the solutions.
“Hmm,” she said.
“Ok… I’m going to get in touch with my directors and we can sort this out.”
“Really? Wow, thank you.”
When I got back to the office the head of HR came over to me and told me how much I’d impressed the Chief People Officer and that we needed to get going on getting me that new job.
One of my potential new managers came over to me and told me that it had been way too long since we’d met up and that we needed to sort out how I might fit into her team.
I had my new job, a job I knew I’d love, my promotion, within the month.
None of these stories would’ve happened without self-awareness.
I never would’ve spoken to the trainer if I hadn’t understood and accepted that I wanted to do something different.
I never would’ve admitted that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing if I hadn’t decided to have courage in the moment I most needed it.
I never would’ve been able to convince the Chief People Officer to help me get a new job if I didn’t know how important to me it was to do a job that was important to me.
What would my career have been like had I not been self-aware? If I’d not accepted that I was unhappy? If I’d refused to stop pretending I wasn’t self-aware?
I probably would’ve stayed in jobs I didn’t like. I probably wouldn’t have taken advantage of lucky opportunities like being able to spend time with the Chief People Officer. I probably would’ve stayed unhappy and started doing a worse job and became even unhappier.
I saw so many examples of that in my job. People who would complain that they didn’t enjoy their job, and that nothing was changing, or that everything around them was changing except their own situation.
And these people would claim to be self-aware.
So they were self-aware enough to know they were unhappy but apparently not self-aware enough to know that they were the person responsible for being unhappy?
What kind of bullshit “self-awareness” is that?
Maybe self-awareness is simply being aware of yourself.
But I don’t think so.
I think true self-awareness is when you act on being aware of yourself. Because you’re so confident in yourself and you just know with your whole heart that it’s the right thing to do and so why wouldn’t you act?
That’s why self-awareness is essential to your career.
Because, yes, the trainer happened to have a job opening. Yes, the HR manager happened to empathise with me and wanted to help me find a different job. Yes, the Chief People Officer happened to want to tell her directors about me.
Yes, those things were lucky.
But I only got the chance to be lucky in those situations because of how I’d acted before.
If you liked this then you’ll like my blog: www.matthearnden.com