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The Key to Being Professional

Being Self-Aware


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Terrance Layhew

3 years ago | 6 min read

An off handed remark from a loved one, the absence of affirmation from a superior at work, take your pick there are plenty of occasions. Few of us don’t have an Ego with a glass jaw, one hit and it goes down for the count.

Our Egos are carefully nurtured, fed little hearts and thumbs-up from our digital lives, constantly searching for affirmation in the real world from the opinions of the people we meet. The Ego is a tyrannical monster at its worst and a needy pet at its best.

Frequently, we take the interactions and responses of the world too close to heart, assuming everyone has as much of a focus on ourselves as we do.

We forget everyone else is consumed with their own interests and agendas, any comments our direction are merely collateral damage on their mission of ambition.

In our personal interactions, we can draw incredibly illogical extrapolations from the tiniest of details, looking for anything to support the theories we created to support our Egos and feed our paranoia. We perceive slights which are usually unintentional, instead of seeing it as social friction of people interacting with one another.

“Be Nice.”

In Road House (1989) we meet Dalton (Patrick Swayze), a legendary bouncer who is hired to clean up a struggling bar with troublesome customers. Sitting down with the bouncers and staff, he explains to them his rules.

Source — IMDB

Dalton says to be nice, regardless of how the customer may respond. If they get in your face and insult you directly, still be nice, “Ask him to walk, be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him, but be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you and you will both be nice.

I want you to remember that it’s the job, it’s nothing personal.” When questioned if being called an unprintable name isn’t personal, Dalton observes, “No, it’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.”

Most of us would be wise to take this advice in our own interactions, to remember it’s not personal. Suspend your Ego in your interactions, it is an easy way to prevent continual frustration and anxiety.

Why play a game with the most fragile piece on the board? It’s like playing Chess with the King as your main offensive strategy. Suspending our Egos gives us the freedom to use a more robust skillset: Awareness.

Being Self-Aware

“Self-Aware,” is one of those rare self-words which doesn’t typically lead to hubris and destruction. Instead it often has the opposite effect, making you conscious of how people perceive you in reality instead of based on the narrative you construct. The injuries we suffer to our Egos are most often the result of conflict between our own self-narrative and the reality we actually face.

A genuine view of yourself is invaluable. Most people view themselves narcissistically, forgetting the flaws in their character, or excusing them, highlighting only the best of who they are. We perform photoshop on our identities so perfectly we are horrified when confronted with a real picture of who we are.

The most self-possessed and assured people you meet are those who know who they are, both the good and bad.

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Acknowledging the fullness of your identity allows you to actively improve in your weak spots, instead of shading them out of the picture. The honest image allows you to remove the weakness of your own Ego. No longer are you shocked by the truth, you can know the lie as a lie.

As Sherlock Holmes instructs Watson, “To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”

Do not mistake honesty for false humility. When embracing your full identity do not make the error of downplaying who you are in your strengths or weaknesses. Being capable is a good thing, look to your results as an honest measure of success and disregard the petty praise or sniping from the rest of the world.

Awareness of Others ( aka Empathy)

Pushing our awareness beyond ourselves, and extending it to the lives and feelings of others is the quality of Empathy. By this romance is made, trust is founded and you can keep your foot out of your mouth.

For some, Empathy is an inherent ability, they understand the “feel” of a room the moment they enter it. The majority of us do not possess this trait at such high degrees naturally, but may cultivate it though exercise.

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

The critical element is usually turning off our own self talk. Instead of listening to our inner dialogue, waiting for the moment to add our all so important dribble to the conversation, we should funnel that energy into those around us.

What is the timber of their voice?

Are their words and actions a mask they are wearing or the reality?

Recognize everyone has the same insecurities you do, and are either consciously or unconsciously attempting to compensate for them.

Robert Greene wrote in his book The Laws of Human Nature, “In an encounter, keep your attention active to see how the other person changes over the course of a conversation and the effect you have on them. Be alive in the moment.” Removing the focus from ourselves, from our insecurities and problems, we are capable of having more real attention to share with other people.

Whenever a slight may be perceived or intended, we may remain unfazed. Instead of reacting, we can distance ourselves and look at the matter as it is, rather than as we imagine it to be. We can ask ourselves if it was an intended insult, and if so why they felt the need to share it. Remember, it speaks more to their character than our own.

It’s Nothing Personal

Each of us have a job to do and a life to live. Professionalism is being able to suspend your own Ego regardless of circumstance. Functionally, it allows us to live without constantly focusing on the consequences of how we look and appear to others.

A job is a job, when someone calls you an unprintable name it’s nothing personal. It’s only “two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.”

Benching the Ego isn’t easy, it goes against our natural instincts. When we feel insulted, it instantly activates the threat response of fight or flight. We perceive a threat and desire to take action accordingly, teaching them a lesson for their own ill chosen words or actions. Sometimes these are true threats, but rarely are they ever personal ones.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The average person does not have a sufficient interest in anyone other than themselves for it to become personal. They are only concerned with getting what they wanted or inflicting injury against those who are perceived as denying them what they wanted. With this attitude, mankind descends from supposed rationality to the point of becoming beasts.

Without your Ego taking the center stage, you may elevate yourself from the mass of self-serving Neanderthals. This is the essence of the ideal of philosophy, to be able to look at life rationally without becoming invested in how people perceive or treat you.

Our Ego asks us to feel slighted or elated at circumstances we cannot control, pushing us to rely on the external for validation and support. This weakness has ruined Emperors, Kings, and CEO’s throughout time, and can destroy any of us just as easily. Awareness and Empathy challenge Ego-centric thinking, asking us to recognize our own value and freely share it with others.

The options are simple and the choice must be made every day, in every interaction, and every decision. We can either act based on Ego, hoping more comfort than suffer results, or act based on the awareness of ourselves and those around us. We can take life personally or professionally, remember one hurts far more than the other.

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