In defence of self-reflection
24 years ago I had a meeting with the Assistant Headmaster a month into my first teaching job. It was the first time I had seen him laugh, much less smile. His eyes welled up with tears as he laughed at me. He asked how things were going and I said, with all seriousness “really well except for not having enough time to reflect.” He was obviously amused by my age and naivety.
Reflecting on your experiences is a critical part of the learning process and was a major part of my teachers’ college program back then. We analyzed everything we did and asked tough questions of ourselves. I naively expected that it was a professional skill that was practiced by everyone. Come on…it’s teaching…how can you assess the progress of others without reflecting on your own? But, like any other career, time is short, schedules are full, and we are continually being asked to do more with less; in short, “what” we do becomes more important than “why” we do it.
It’s only during certain life events that we take the time to reflect and reset (New Years, Anniversaries, Births, Deaths, Illness, Breakups.)
It’s not enough.
To live and work with purpose and authenticity, you have to make room for regular reflection. Keep a journal, write a blog, get a counsellor or coach -they are trained questioners (a good coach can be a game changer,) join a group, create a group, enlist a friend. Whether it’s solitary, facilitated, or social — reflecting on your life and work is the only way to grow.
Honest reflection is both difficult and liberating but the benefits are clear:
You learn not to fear failure
Reflection frees you up to try new things. A negative outcome is an opportunity for growth.
You learn not to take yourself so seriously
If identifying your own mistakes becomes routine, you come to realize that nothing you do is so dire that you can’t come back from it.
You learn to own your successes
Reflection gives you an opportunity to acknowledge and internalize your strengths.
You open the door for real connection
You create room for others to feel safe being vulnerable when you are the first to speak the truth about some mistake made.
You become really great at empathy
It’s just easier to feel someone else’s struggle when you’re self-aware.
You’re a better parent
Think about a time when you felt the sting of hypocrisy as someone held you to a higher standard than they held themself. Reflection allows you to see areas where you are not practicing what you are preaching.
You simply get better
Remember the expression “what gets measured gets done?” You become better at whatever you are doing when you can identify what you’ve done well and what needs improvement.
It takes time
Giving yourself room to reflect means making time for it and prioritizing it above other things when you have a full schedule.
It’s always a choice
Just like hitting that snooze button when it’s time to exercise, it can be easy to skip.
You may not like what you learn
Not everything you learn about yourself is going to be positive. Honest self-reflection can be hard.
You open yourself up to challenges and critiques from other people
People sometimes feel that they can openly criticize you if you’ve identified something that you are working on.
Some people will feel threatened
There will be people in your life that will not support you. No one likes to fall behind, and if they aren’t ready to work on self-improvement they may try to keep you down.
Taking the time to reflect was a humorous sign of my youth and inexperience 24 years ago. Today these same values are positively attributed to my age and experience.
To younger generations entering the workforce — hold onto the lessons that you value and beliefs that you hold as core to your makeup — don’t let experience and time beat you with them. The more fundamental they are to you now, the more valuable they will be to you as you age.