You might be miserable at work because you don’t know what makes you happy.
Hear me out. Professional self-awareness means knowing your own feelings and needs—knowing how you work best, what your goals are, and what accomplishments make you happiest. Listening to those needs and acting on them will make you feel more connected to the work you do every day.
But ignoring, or worse, glossing over them, can lead to misery.
This happens to people constantly. We’re taught from a young age to follow what others expect from us—listen to the teacher, parents, and babysitter. Then it becomes “listen to the boss” and we lose ourselves. We learn our wants and needs don’t really matter. People end up working in situations they hate but have no idea what they’d rather be doing. They’ve never taken time to ask themselves those crucial questions.
Because few people realize they can follow their own passions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in agile coaching, everything is done by invitation. We don’t insist anyone listen to us, we ask them if they want to. So, when I’m working with clients stuck in their own misery, it’s crucial I start with, “What do you like?” If their answer is, “I don’t know,” we use that as our starting point. Together, we begin to build their self-awareness.
Because being aware of your wants, needs, and desires will help you find genuine happiness at work, making you more engaged and productive in the long-term.
But first, you have to know what actionable self-awareness looks like.
In their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves discuss the critical importance of having a high level of emotional understanding in the workplace.
A low emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” could lead to defensive behavior at work or getting chewed up by your own emotions. You may not understand why you feel a certain way, or why a working relationship isn’t functioning well. All of that frustration and despair can build up and cause problems, such as snapping at coworkers, lashing out, or using anger to try and control a situation.
A high EQ, on the other hand, helps you successfully manage your own emotions as well as your working relationships with success.
Bradbury and Greaves break emotional intelligence into four categories. Successfully growing in each looks slightly different, but is equally crucial to your long-term happiness. For example:
Internal Self-Awareness: You know how you feel. This is at the core of all other EQ tasks or skills—without it, you can accomplish little.
Self-Management: You know how to manage your emotions and positively direct your behavior. You understand your mental and emotional needs for your work environment and know how to ask they be met by your employer.
Social awareness: You empathize easily with your coworkers and their needs. You are able to engage in conversations of varying intensities with a great degree of social grace.
Relationship management: You understand the emotions of your coworkers and how to work well with others in any given situation.
Those all sound like attributes of a happy, well-rounded, emotionally adjusted coworker, right? But no one walks into a room fully self-aware and ready to roll.
It takes hard work and a willingness to look closely at your own needs.
The first step to developing an acute EQ and improved self-awareness is digging deep into your own self.
For a lot of people, this is going to be uncomfortable—scary even. Remember: we’ve all been trained to gloss over our own needs in favor of what we’re told to do and who we’re expected to follow. Suddenly ripping away that protective layer to follow your own direction is terrifying.
To ease the fear, arm yourself with knowledge. Make your needs and happiness an exam you can’t afford to fail—literally. Taking personality tests can help do more than kill time on a slow work day. Assessments like Meyers-Briggs and the Enneagram aren’t foolproof science, but they can provide insights into aspects of your personality you may miss on your own.
For example, according to the Meyers-Briggs test, I’m an ISFJ, also known as The Defender. This means I’m sensitive but analytical, reserved, but good with people. Essentially, I’m just the right collection of letters to be an agile coach, but without knowing myself, I may have ended up on an entirely different career path.
After you’ve done the work, take notes and have them ready.
A “User Manual” for managing you as an employee can be a huge asset both for your own self-awareness and your employer.
And this doesn’t have to be an actual full-on 50 page PDF. It can be one page with a few bullet points that address your work style, your values, your growing edge, etc.
For example, my user manual tells my current or future colleagues that I most value inner peace, stability, and openness, while also alerting them that when I am the most frustrated, I can lash out emotionally. Now, that’s a seriously vulnerable thing to tell someone you work with. Fear of judgment may make people less likely to take a risk like that.
But without taking risks, you can’t grow. You can’t create the best possible space for your own progress. And the whole point of developing self-awareness is to do better for yourself. The more you understand yourself, the better chance you have of being in situations where you can thrive—with or without a user manual.