Tag Archives: Self Awareness

Who Are You? How to Understand Your Identity!

Question -asking- Who -Are -You? Image
Who Are You? Image

Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Alice in Wonderland-Lewis Carrol

Who Are You, is not the typical question many of us get asked daily, nor is Who Am I, a question many of us normally ask ourselves. Yet as simple and straight forward as these questions might seem, many people struggle to conceptualize and communicate a response that clearly expresses their self-concept/self-identity or how they see themselves. When asked the question-who are you, many of us go with the obvious responses that include sharing our name, job title, family relations, hobbies, religious beliefs, and cultural background. While these responses explain parts of our self -identity, they barely scratch the surface of who we are as individuals. The “who are you” question challenges us to, pause and think about our beliefs, perspectives, experiences, values and how we make sense of the world around us.

So, who are you and why should you care?

Understanding Self- Identity

How do you identify yourself?

  • Do you identify according to your job/skills?
  • Do you identify yourself according to your family relations?
  • Do you identify according to your feelings or your natural talents?  
  • Do you identify according to you race or socio-economic status?  

Encyclopedia.com defines “Self-identity refers to a person’s self-conception, or self-definition that people apply to themselves because of the structural role positions he or she occupies or a particular behavior he or she engages in regularly. Self-identities reflect the “labels people use to describe themselves” (Biddle, Bank, and Slavings 1987, p. 326).”  

Based on this, there are no straightforward answers to the question of who we are.  Since none of us are any one thing, our self-identity is just as complex as we are. Like onions, our self-identity has several different layers and can shift as we grow, mature, and evolve. Nonetheless, our self-identity affects how we show up and approach life, bounce back from hardships, work with others, develop and maintain relationships, make decisions, and navigate life challenges.  And, understanding who we are, can help us cope with stress, improve work performance, and increase our overall psychological well-being.

What is Social Identity?

The societies we live in and our cultural backgrounds play a huge role in defining our self-concept/identity. And the concept of social identity offers us one of the best ways of developing a better understanding of who we are and how others experience us. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), defines social identity as “the labels that people use to categorize or identify themselves and/or others as members of specific groups.” Afterall, how we see ourselves influences how we interact with and treat others. And as organizations and workplaces become more diverse, understanding our social identity will also determines how we lead, manage and work with others.

CCL- Social Identity Model
CCL- Social Identity Model

Based on  CCL research, our social identity is made up of three parts represented by concentric circles.

  1. Given Identity: This is the outer ring which presents information about our ascribed characteristics for which we had no choice about. They include traits we received at birth such as name, nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, and personality and other physical descriptors such as height and age.
  1. Chosen Identity: This second ring represents characteristics that you control, the choices you made and the skills you have. Examples of your given identity includes your career or occupational choices, religion, hobbies, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and relationship status etc.
  2. Core Identity: The innermost ring signifies the qualities that make you unique. While some of these may change over your life, areas such as behaviors, values, and deep-seated beliefs remain constant.

Social Identity Example

Based on this social identity model, my given identity, includes being a 42 years old, 5ft. 6in. black woman who was born in Kingston, Jamaica to a teenage mom. I have two sisters and one brother. I’m extroverted, outgoing, assertive and love people. For my chosen identity, I am educated to the graduate level and have spent the last 18 years working as a learning and organizational development professional. I reside in USA and have dual citizenship. I am also a single mom to one beautiful daughter, a Christian and friend. I enjoy reading, writing, dancing, swimming, watching movies, great conversations and hanging out with friends. At my core, I believe God, I love people and I am passionate about learning. I value friendships, responsibility, consistency, communication, and love. And I am deeply committed to becoming a better version of myself and helping others so the same. So how about you?

And just as our social identities can change, some aspects of identity can be less or more noticeable depending on where we live. For example, when I lived in Jamaica, I never paid much attention to what being Jamaican meant. But, when I moved to the Northern Virginia area with a more diverse population, my identity as a Jamaican became increasingly significant. As I interacted with my new environment, I experienced a need to maintain my self-identity, while I sought to reinvent myself and to establish who I am and where I come from. Suddenly, my car had Jamaican plate holders and little flag, my ID lanyard at work was in Jamaican colors and I made sure to speak Patois more often than I ever did while living in Jamaica.  

Challenges to Self Identity

So, what happens when who you are changes? That is, the way you see yourself and your identity is challenged.

Major life events such as migration, an accident, death, divorce, debilitating illness, and other hardships can fundamentally change aspects of our identities. These changes to identity may cause some people to question their WHY, lose their way, their sense of purpose and to struggle with how they see themselves as well with other people’s perceptions of them. In fact, studies by Harvard Business Review, reveal that transitional experiences, such as job changes or romantic breakups, typically decrease self-concept clarity.

The research also goes on to state that “when living abroad, people’s exposure to novel cultural values and norms prompts them to repeatedly engage with their own values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened.”  On the other hand, the studies also states that another common response some people have to moving abroad is culture shock. In that, the “anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols can produce a level of anxiety  that leaves them feeling alienated and isolated and unable to establish a clear sense of self”.

When all is said and done, understanding our self-identity may help us to find commonalities with others around us, bolster our self-confidence and improve our overall self-awareness. In turn, this can improve our abilty to develop and maintain positive relationships, reduce communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. And best of all, knowing who we are can also enhance our capacity to deal with stress, adapt to change, be resilient and navigate life’s challenges. So, know thyself.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearninglife!

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Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean- Which Would You Rather Be?

Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean - Pic Collage
Carrot, Egg or Coffee Bean-Which Would You Rather Be- Pic Collage

On my most recent Library run, I came across a small book called The Coffee Bean (A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change) by Damon West. Curious about the title and cover, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. Surprised by the simple story format and cool illustrations, I borrowed it thinking it would be an interesting and easy read. When I settled down to read it, I completed the Coffee Bean story in an hour because of its simple yet fascinating message on how to overcome adversity and create positive change.

The Coffee Bean Story

The Coffee Bean story uses the powerful analogy of a pot of boiling water and how three objects (a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean) are changed by the heat and pressure when placed into the pot. Though the carrot goes in hard; it becomes soft from the heat and the pressure of the water. The longer the carrot stays in the boiling water, the more it loses its original form, becoming softer and softer, eventually losing its vibrant color and taste. The egg has a hard outer shell that covers its soft liquid insides, but when placed in the boiling water, the soft liquid inside begins to get hard. And if the egg stays in the water for a long time, it becomes so hard that even the hard outer shell cracks. But when the coffee bean is placed into the pot of boiling water, it transforms the whole environment and water becomes coffee. So, as small as the coffee bean is, it is not changed by its circumstances, it completely changes its environment from the inside out.

Pot of Water Boiling over Wood Fire-Photo
Pot of Water Boiling over Wood Fire

Meaning of Coffee Bean Story

The pot of boiling water represents the hardships, challenges, and adversities that you and I face in life. The carrot, egg and coffee bean represent how we respond and are affected by the various circumstances we face. I do not know what your pot of boiling water might look like, but each of us have or have had a hardship or adversity that we have struggled to overcome or are still facing. Your pot of boiling water might be a divorce or separation, a broken relationship, the loss of a loved one, infertility, illness or disease, financial hardships or the loss of a job that defined you.

When life hits you hard or knocks you down, it is easy to throw in the towel, lose sight of who you are, what you believe and to give up on the dreams you hold dear. But at the same time, we also get to choose our mindset (fixed or growth) the attitudes we display (positive or negative) to help us be resilient and overcome obstacles. So how do you respond when you find yourself in a pot of boiling water? Are you the carrot, the egg, or the coffee bean?

When I think about my own life experiences (personally and professionally), I am sometimes guilty of allowing the harshness of certain situations to change how I behave and treat others. I can think of painful life experiences that have weakened me like the carrot, reduced me to tears and left me questioning why me? In other moments, the pot of boiling water I was thrown in hardened me like an egg who became resentful of those who hurt me and even struggling to forgive. Nonetheless, adversity has made me stronger and pushed me to be more resilient(See previous post) and better. So, as a coffee bean, I have also been able to take some of my boiling pot of water moments and transform them into coffee. And in so doing, I have overcame many hardships to have a positive impact on the people and organizations I come into contact with.

Hardships and adversity challenge us and can test our determination and commitment to what we value and believe is important. But we should never allow the circumstances of life to change us (make us bitter) or cause us to act outside of our true nature and what we believe to be wrong or right. We can choose to be a coffee bean by never losing sight of who we are, the power and strength within us and our ability to change our conditions (however difficult).

Whole Coffee Beans Falling-Image
Whole Coffee Beans Falling -Image

Life Applications: Five Rules of Being a Coffee Bean

The main message of the book is that, like the coffee bean, each of us have the potential to change the environments in which we operate or be changed by them. So here are five rules from the Damon West that you can use to become a coffee bean:

1.Get up every day and work out every day:  Here the workout is not just physical, it includes spiritually and mentally.  To get and stay in shape spiritually, West recommends you have a conversation with God and ask the following questions- How did I do today? Was I a good person? Who do I need to apologize to or forgive? For the mental workout, he reminds us that we are what we eat, so pay attention to the kind of books you read, the websites you visit, shows you watch, and the kinds of music you listen to. And for the physical, be sure to exercise, get rest, and pay attention to your nutrition.

2. Serve others:  When we lend a helping hand to others without expecting to receive, we are also helping ourselves. None of us got to where we are without the help and kindness of others. So volunteer, mentor, pay it forward and actively seek ways to bless and encourage others.

3.Remember You Only Control 4 Things:  Some of us like to believe we have more control over our lives than we do. But according to the author (And I agree) the only four things we control are in our minds. This is- what you think, what you say, what you feel and what you do. Outside of that, we control nothing.  So, focus on the things you can control and other people will notice your example and you will be able to make a positive impact on the environment around you.

4.Your past does not define you. Your past is your lesson and not a determinant of your future. We should try to learn from our past but do not dwell there. Your losses and mistakes do not define you. Your present is a gift, and your future should serve as a motivation for you to become the best version of yourself each day. So ask yourself if/how the choices you make today will impact your future self.

5. Energy is about body language– Your energy and body language are what people see before you open your mouth. Pay attention to how you walk, your facial expressions, your tone of voice- we are always communicating. Your energy is contagious and can impact people positively or negatively, so ensure that you are spreading something good. And always remember to smile.

When all is said and done, we will all find ourselves in our own pot of boiling water. No one wants to be the soft and weakened carrot, nor the mad and miserable egg. All of us must strive to be the coffee bean that says, no matter how much heat and pressure I face, I will not allow my circumstances to change me. Instead, I will change and improve my environment and get stronger in the process. So, imagine your most difficult life situation and ask yourself how I can be a coffee bean?

Until next time, Remember, #ItsALearningLife!

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Blind Spots: Danger -Watch Yourself !!

Blind Spot in Rearview Mirror-Image
Blind Spot in Rearview Mirror

Think about the first time you got behind the steering wheel to drive a car. You performed all the basic safety procedures to operate the vehicle safely and to keep you and other drivers safe on the road. As you drove off the vehicle, your instructor probably warned or reminded you to be careful and to check your blind spot. In driving, a blind spot is that the area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see from the driver’s seat. Every driver knows that, attempting to merge or change lanes without checking your blind spot is dangerous and can possibly lead to collision or a serious accident with another vehicle on the road.  

The problem with blind spots

Just as with cars, all of us have blind spots. Blind spots refer to unrecognized areas of weaknesses that we all have, that can potentially harm our relationships, overall effectiveness, and chances for personal and professional success. The real issue with blind spots is that – most of us are walking around and interacting every day without any awareness and knowledge of what our blind spots are. And while some of us might be unaware of our blind spots, or may not even want to admit them, these behaviors are usually very obvious to the people around us- our friends, coworkers and family who observe and experience daily. So just as in driving, where we need to frequently check our mirrors for your blind spot, we need other people to “hold up the mirror for us.”

Another problem with blind spots that makes them hard to recognize is that- a blind spot could easily be related to a personality characteristic that we consider to be a strength. For example, people like me who describe themselves as assertive, confident and outgoing, can be easily be perceived by others as arrogant and ‘pushy’. A child that loves to organize and suggest the games she plays with her friends, can be viewed as “bossy.” A person who is reserved and cautious about risk might be seen as inflexible and not open to new ideas.  This is because any strength that is overused or misused, can become a weakness. When we overuse a strength, what matters most is not what we intended, but the effects that our words or actions had on others. Perception then becomes the reality and can lead to situations where we are misunderstood, or we misunderstand others.

Cat Staring at Lion Reflection in the Mirror-Image
Cat Staring at Lion Reflection in the Mirror

The importance of self-awareness

How well do you know yourself? According to Harvard Business Review, most people believe that they are self-aware, yet only  15-20% of people are. At its simplest, self-awareness is understanding and knowing one’s own feelings, personality, behaviors, and patterns. It is also a crucial aspect of developing our emotional intelligence. When we lack self-awareness, it can work against us and lead to people to make judgements about us, that are different from how we see ourselves. This disconnect can make it incredibly frustrating and difficult for us to build and maintain positive interpersonal relationships in both our personal and professional lives.

In the early days of my own career journey, self-awareness was perhaps my biggest pain point and blind spot. For me, the issue was not that I did not know my strengths and weaknesses. If you had asked me about those, I would have been able to quickly and frankly describe the things I did well and did not. Still, I was experiencing some interpersonal problems with a few of my coworkers that prevented us from getting along well. I had concluded that they did not like me and one day vented my frustrations to a friend, who was also a colleague. She patiently listened to my concerns. After I had finished, she explained to me that- as my friend she knew and understood me and my personality. Because of that, when I behaved in a particular way, she was never offended because she understood me and what my motives were.

However, she went on to share that whenever I was knowledgeable and passionate about something, I was very direct and assertive in communicating my opinions and ideas. She further explained that- this could be interpreted by others as intimidating, arrogant and that sometimes, I did come across “a bit too strongly.” I was surprised and shocked by her feedback and had a hard time accepting it. But deep down, I also trusted her and knew it was true. Her feedback certainly explained why- despite my best efforts I was not having the impact I wanted and was not working effectively with those members of the team. The feedback left me feeling confused and frustrated. How could my strengths- self-confidence, outgoing personality and assertiveness show up as a weakness? Her feedback had revealed a blind spot and I knew then that I would need to do some things differently.

The Johari Window

So how do you improve your self-awareness? In my previous post about feedback, I wrote about how many of us struggle to accept any information we believe to be negative or critical. The less open we are to receiving feedback, the more likely it is that we will lack self-awareness and be blindsided by our blind spots. One technique that could help us develop our self-awareness and minizine our blind spots is the Johari Window. The Johari Window (diagram below) breaks down self-awareness into two categories (Things known and unknown about you to other people and things known and unknown about you to yourself) and four areas: open, blind, hidden, and unknown.

The Johari Window ModeL
The Johari Window Model

The goal of the Johari Window is for us to improve our self-awareness by increasing the open area of our window by shrinking our blind, hidden, and unknown areas.

  • Open Area: In this area, you will find the information you know about yourself and others do. This is information that we voluntarily disclose and is usually public knowledge.
  • Blind Area:  Here you will find information that you do not know about yourself, but others do. This is also the area where our blind spots live, and we rely on others to share this information with us.
  • Hidden Area: This area has information that you know about yourself and others do not. This include the things that you consider to be private or anything you believe will make you vulnerable to others.
  • Unknown Area: This area represents the things that are unknown to you and others. This is an area that is good for self-discovery and provide you with opportunities to learn a new skill or develop a new interest or hobby outside of our comfort zone.

Final Thoughts

While we get to decide how big or small the areas in our window are, the more we increase our open area, the more effective we become in our relationships at work at home.  I know you might be thinking that you do not want people to know everything about you. Afterall, putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to others can be hard and risky. But, when we open ourselves to others and share our values, goals, and experiences, we build trust, forge stronger connections, and learn more about our own feeling and emotions. So as a next step, try the following tips to help you to continue to improve your self-awareness and minimize your blind spots

  1. Start paying attention to yourself and notice your thinking, feelings, patterns and behaviors.
  2.  Build connections and relationships with people to help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Ask for feedback and be ready and willing to receive it and make the change(s) where necessary.
  4. Be patient and compassionate with others even when their behaviors frustrate you. You might be looking at their blind spots, but yours are just as visible to others too. So, do not forget to check you blind spots.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Dare to Be YourSELF: Everyone Else Is Taken

Love You Self- Image
Love You Self

As a Jamaican immigrant living in the US, amongst people from diverse backgrounds, owning my self-identity and being authentically me – has not always been easy. This February, as we celebrate Black History Month, I have found myself thinking about how the concepts of self-identity, self-belief, self-acceptance and how they interconnect and shape our lives and actions.  

Here is what I mean-as individuals, we see and understand ourselves in relation to the world around us. How we see ourselves, what we accept and believe to true about ourselves, what we believe we can or cannot achieve, is heavily influenced by our upbringing and our early socialization. In turn, our sense of self determines, how we see ourselves and others, how we present ourselves, how we engage with others and ultimately, how other people experiences us.  So, I wanted to explore, how our understanding of all these self-related concepts can and do influence the trajectory of our lives for better or for worse.

What Does Self-Identity Mean?

Let us start with self-identity -which refers to how we describe ourselves and the labels we use. When asked to describe ourselves, our answers can typically range from references to our given identity (things that are true about us at the time of our birth) such our gender, ethnicity, family to our chosen identity (choices we make later in life) such as profession, religion, marital status, or whether you are a parent or not.  Another important aspect of our self-identity is our core identify, which reflects our deeply held beliefs about what is good and important i.e., our values and attitudes. Here you will find insights on what truly matters to the individual and what drives them. So, our self-identity is the sum of our given, chosen and core identity-all that we hold dear. For me, all these elements of my self-identity, continue to be a source of pride and influence my attitudes to everything- from relationships, faith, work, parenting, education and even my notions of success.

However, owning my self-identity and operating from it has not always been that simple. In the 8-years that I have lived here in the US, I have always been surrounded by people from all walks of life. Coming from Jamaica before that, where our motto is “Out of Many One People”, I have always valued and respected diversity. Yet, my experiences have proved to me that some people and environments- welcome, respect and value diversity more than others. And even where diversity is welcomed, immigrant minorities like me, can still struggle in building, maintaining, and navigating positive interpersonal relationships (personally and professionally).

Dr. Seuss-Truer Than You -Quote
Dr. Seuss-Truer Than You Quote

One example of how this plays out for me as Black Jamaican woman is when I am complimented by people who hear me speak – they talk about my accent and how lovely it sounds. In response, I typically smile and say thank you, because I very proud of my Jamaican heritage (100% Born and Grown). However, I have also worked in environments where, I have had a coworker (Who looks like me) say- “I don’t like you all” (meaning immigrants) and accuse me of receiving preferential treatment (due to my Caribbean heritage) , as compared to other African American women like herself. I have even had another colleague (Who does not look like me) say- “your energy is shutting me down”. When asked to expand on her statement, she alluded to my use of hands (gestures) when speaking -which is part and parcel of how I express myself.

These interactions have always given me pause and led to moments where, I have had to turn to my comfort circle for advice and encouragement. For individuals less self-assured than myself, these experiences can undermine one’s sense of psychological safety and can cause an individual to begin to doubt and question him/herself , values, and abilities. Afterall, how do you react in situations where you have been disrespected and treated unfairly, (because of another person’s biases and stereotypes)? Do you stop speaking up in meetings? Does it make you want to step back and not own your space at the table?

I know first-hand, how challenging it can be – to be the only black person and immigrant in a meeting, to speak even when your voice is unpopular, to be the youngest manager in the room, to walk into a classroom on back-to-school night as the only single parent surrounded by married couples. I have also known the frustration of always having to police myself and my daughter (Due to my knowing that, the standards used to judge one set of people, will be different from those used to judge her or me). Yet, at the end of the day, I continue to resist the urge to blend in and instead, resolve to be authentically me and not dim my light for anyone.

Self-Belief or Self-Regard

The next important self-concept to unpack is self- regard. Whether you call it self-regard or self- belief, this one speaks to how we see ourselves as individuals. Do you believe/ see yourself as worthwhile, important and valuable?  Our answer(s) to this question, often determines how we interact we with others, how we behave and how we allow people to treat us. Self-regard is also key aspect of developing our emotional intelligence. Having high self-regard will help us to communicate confidence, positivity, and improve our ability to influence and engage others, as well as, bounce back from hardships. On the other hand, having poor/low self-regard, can result in tendencies towards self-doubt, negative self-talk and not feeling empowered to use our talents and skills to pursue our goals and dreams.

Our self-belief will serves as the blueprint for our lives and drive our actions. Having high self regard, does not mean that, you see yourself as better than others. To the contrary, it means that, you have high aspirations for yourself, confidence in your abilities and you are actively working towards reaching your full potential.

What is Self -Acceptance

Self-Acceptance begs the question- do you accept you? This is not a trick question and the answer is not straightforward for some.  A huge part of self-acceptance is having an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses, limitations and opportunities for growth and development.  Accepting some truths about ourselves can be difficult, especially, when we are confronted with feedback or information that challenges how we see ourselves. When and where this happens, try not to dismiss all negative feedback because of how it makes you feel. Chances are, if you have received similar feedback from more than one person, you should take some time to look at it objectively and see what you can learn from it or do differently. At the same time, do not feel obliged to accept everyone’s opinion of you. The more self-aware we become, the less likely we will be blindsided by our actions and how we impact others.

 Another factor that might impact our ability to accept ourselves is social media. Every day, we are bombarded with images of what our bodies, beauty, family, relationships, success and achievement should look like. One unfortunate result is that, many of us feel pressured to ‘Keep Up with the Jones’s, or find ourselves in a comparison trap, where we assess our progress and achievement by looking at other people’s ‘highlight reel’.  In so doing, we struggle to come to terms with the reality that, each of us have a different path, different skill, talents, and challenges. Your season and timeline for any key milestone or goal (Marriage, children, financial freedom, home ownership, education, fitness) is different from mine. Work your own plan. Run your own race. Accept where you are right now, at this stage of your life and celebrate your small wins.

Your thoughts and experiences on any of these self-concepts may be similar or different than mine, I’d like you to, spend some time thinking about how you see yourself, what you believe is true about yourself and how you will honor /accept yourself at whatever stage of growth and development you currently find yourself in. At the end of the day, it is not about perfection but progression. Just commit to honoring who you are, where you are right now, while committing to work toward becoming the best version of yourself.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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