In a world full of business moguls, online role models and strong voices saturating our lives, what sets apart the advice of the truly successful and happy? Is the pedestal on which we place the wisdom of others built solely on life experience and market value, or is there some secret quality that these moguls share? Conventional wisdom will tell you that hard work breeds success; properly leverage your assets and you too can attain notability in your industry. The problem with this approach is that there are hundreds of men and women who have been running podcasts or websites for the last decade, and they are no closer to success than the day they started.
I have experienced this same plateau in my personal growth and spiritual life. As a pastor’s kid I have always felt pressure to model faith, and my approach to success in this area was to master the Christian faith through discipline and hard work. As you may have guessed, this didn’t work out. By the time I came to John Brown University, my will to live out the faith was wearing thin.
The hardest lesson I have learned since coming to JBU is that I do not know myself as well as I thought. Hard times came when I gave up on my faith, and poor choices forced me to take a step back and look in the mirror. The person I saw surprised me. Admitting my insecurities, values, and motives, was painful. I finally stopped telling myself who I was or who I wanted to be, and, cliché as it sounds, I listened to my heart. While this unfiltered truth cut to the core, it also scraped the rust off the best parts of myself, some of which I hadn’t seen for years. Ever since, I have been more prepared to approach myself and the world than ever before. While not an instantaneous event, this growing level of self-awareness continues to build a more stable foundation from which to build. When I accept my own weaknesses without reservation, it robs others of the power to use those things to hurt me. Correspondingly, when I saw that my strengths come from the core of who I am, it brought confidence and peace to assert myself where I can do the most good.
This self-awareness was key to the renewal of my commitment to faith. As is often the case, it turns out that the lessons we learn in our spiritual lives translate directly to how we prime for success in the world. Through this process, and the mentoring of others, I learned that self-awareness is also the most beneficial place from which to launch a career. Not to be confused with self-consciousness, self-awareness is characterized by an objective, accurate perception of your own strengths, weaknesses, and emotions. People with self-made success have either had the luck to fall into just the right position or the self-awareness to accurately assess where they are most effective. You can pursue a career with more passion and hard work than the world has ever seen, but if you suck, you suck. If you pursue an area where you aren’t strong, you can end up like the passionate yet talentless podcaster who has spent a decade of long nights on his show, but has nothing to show for it. There is often a solution; we all know a creative with no business sense, and a business person with no creativity. Sometimes you simply need to bring in someone who is strong where you are weak, and together you can have success. Other times, you need to be redirected because you simply are not talented in what you are doing.
The reality that most people profoundly lack self-awareness is incredibly encouraging to me; it means that one of the biggest advantages you can have in life is something you control, and can attain without monetary investment. The benefit of starting your career with a complete understanding of your own strengths and passions is immeasurable and few people have the privilege. As college students, we are in one the best places available to develop this trait. If I graduate without intentionally pursuing and developing self-awareness, then I will consider my experience here a wasted opportunity. If I can wish one thing for my friends, it would be that they truly understand who they are. If you’re like me, you may not like what you find, but you will finally be on the path to lasting change while priming yourself for success in your career.