Are you as self-aware as you could be?

So you've been in the workforce for a number of years, and things are going well. You know your strengths, you've set career goals and have achieved many of them. A degree or two is displayed on your office wall, and a sense of pride arises from knowing you are valued by your colleagues. Still, after countless 60-hour work weeks, a certain disquiet arises when you close that laptop for the day. The not-quite-intelligible voice in the back of your mind murmurs something about lack of work-life balance. You'd rather not think about it, but it would be better to stop, look, and listen.  

Perhaps instead you're a senior in college, and family conversations revolve around your future. “So… what are your plans? Have you applied for that grad program in accounting?” This well-meaning inquiry rouses anxiety and the comforting familiarity of your childhood bedroom beckons. The questions go unanswered. You'd rather not think about it, but pay attention: what would following your dream of becoming a creative artist mean to your family?

Sound familiar? Many of us struggle with scenarios like these because self-reflection is not taught in school.

Becoming mindful of our self-talk, our past choices and our future options are important second steps. Leanring how to be self-aware means accepting ourselves and any decisions we've made up until this moment. The third step – the hardest one to make – is taking action.

1. Questioning

Socrates discovered over two millennia ago that questions are a righteous place to begin a quest for knowledge. Society repeatedly urges us to ask: "What do I need to do to get by?" Or "How can I gain the approval of others?" Self-awareness, on the other hand, compels us to heed the quiet voice within that wonders: "Who am I?" "What is my purpose in life?" and perhaps "In what way can I serve?" These are questions that will start you on your path to learning how to be self-aware and finding a deliberate life, rather than one that feels regulated by outside forces. The question “What do you do for a living?” indicates a desire to know how you spend your time, and is more likely to be posed than “What do you do to earn money?” Listen to the semantics: you can actually spend 1/3 of your waking hours doing something for which someone is willing to pay you. Yes, you will spend your life working, so pursue what is meaningful to you – or prepare to feel spent.

2. Becoming mindful

If you find yourself grappling for motivation to get up in the morning, mindfulness activities can help you gain clarity and rediscover your mojo. When restlessness or complacency – two sides of the same coin – become the default operating systems of your work life, being mindful allows you to reboot. Try this mindfulness activity: consider what you loved to do when you were a child. When was the last time you were totally caught up in the moment, as you were then? Getting to this highly focused state, which psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about in his book, Flow, can enable us to recognize moments when we are vastly creative with seemingly little effort. What you discover about yourself in those moments may cause you to take a detour, not such a bad thing when the 'small still voice within' is calling. The works of Jon Kabat-Zinn are another good place to start learning about the power of mindfulness.

3. Taking action

Knowing that mindfulness activities can actually change the structure of your brain is just one reason to opt in. Imagine, then, how much more taking action does to reprogram your brain of its outdated notions! While most of life is not under your control, you can develop the capacity to take action when change is needed in the realm of work-life balance. The accomplishment that you feel when you learn a new skill, join a community or introduce yourself to new people – when you really go for it – will be the energy that drives even more adventures straight to your door. When you stretch yourself, set small incremental goals and guide your own star, your reinvented vocational mindset might be as easy as refreshing the page on your PC (which of course stands for 'Personal Career').

The signs are there; it's up to you to notice them, and then take a small step into your future.

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