There are a few times of year when we not only relax and practice self-care, but we should be sitting down and thinking about who we are, who we want to be, and how we can bridge the gap between the two. Some of those times might be during holidays like Christmas, Easter, Labor Day and even during more general times of the year. Those are really times where we sit with our families, enjoy our Christmas breaks, and think about going into the New Year with goals and objectives that we’ll be making happen over the course of the next year.
Another one of those times of rest and renewal that should trigger this process of self introspection, this process of evaluation of we are and we want to be, is summer. There are those of us who are already returning to school, or who are returning to work after amazing summer vacations. In the process of doing so, and maybe even before we do so, this is really a time to begin thinking about how we want to structure the coming school year. It’s also time to consider how we want to structure the time before during and after our annual performance evaluations if those happen in the latter part of the year at your workplace. Questions like, “Am I happy at this workplace?” and “How can I make myself happy at this workplace?” whether that means rethinking the paradigm in which you placed your work life, or whether that means restructuring your schedule so that you can be more productive and all-around happier. The reason why these periods of rest, renewal, and self-evaluation are so important is that we all want to be leaders, in some sense. We want to lead a team or project, but that can also mean that we want to lead ourselves. Being a leader doesn’t just mean that you’re in charge of other people: it is incredibly important, if not essential, to be able to lead yourself and direct yourself very well before you can even think about expanding to leading a team or project. Inherent to being a leader is understanding who you are, what your values are, and what your goals are. If you don’t understand those things you won’t be able to form a vision for a team or project. You’ll even be able to finish projects on your own.
So, how do we begin to lead ourselves? First, we get to know and evaluate ourselves. Second, we identify the outside resources that can help us achieve our goals. And third, we never limit ourselves.
Identifying your strengths and weaknesses through self-evaluation is all-important in self – leadership. This is the step that allows you to create action plans to continue to hone your strengths and to improve on your weaknesses, both of which you can then developed to assist you in accomplishing your goals. For instance, I consider myself a very good time manager, but I am very introverted. Since time management is one of my strengths, I often manage my time so that I’m able to set aside weekends to build relationships with peers from school, colleagues from work, and family. I’m able to use my strengths in such a way that makes it easy to work on my weaknesses; this is the first step and probably the most important step in your path towards becoming a great self leader.
Identifying the outside resources that we can use to succeed is your next step in your path toward self leadership. Depending on the amount of experience and skill you have in any particular area, you will require varying amounts of support and mentorship from others. For instance, when I started at my law firm this summer, I realized that I was very enthusiastic about doing a good job for my supervisors, but I didn’t have the competence and efficiency that comes with time as a law firm associate. As a result, I knew I needed direction and support, so I reached out to both formal and informal mentors that I had either met before starting at my law firm or that I’d been assigned by my law firm. This allowed me not to waste time and to jump right into assignments with the deeply comforting understanding that I was definitely doing it the right way, because I’d reached out to someone else with much more experience and a higher level of competence in that area. Once you achieve a high level of competence but still have questions, you might not need direction but you might still benefit from mentorship. And once you’ve achieved a high level of competence in an area to the point that you’re able to get projects done alone. Maybe you no longer need any sort of supervision or mentorship in that particular area. Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lie in a specific skill set or activity and using that to determine how much support or mentorship you need is one of the cornerstones of good self leadership.
Limiting yourself based on what you perceive as your weaknesses is never a good idea. It is very important to use that earlier step of self-evaluation to look for any deeply held self-limiting beliefs about your own weaknesses and get rid of them. For instance, since childhood I have held the perception that I am ‘not good at math’, which led me to avoid throwing myself into quantitative analysis and study fully until high school. Had I continued that avoidance of math, it would have been impossible to hone my skills further and to move to a level where I could take classes like Calculus II, Comp Sci, and Organic Chemistry both to prove to myself that I could, and also to make it so that my courseload was rigorous enough to gain admission into Columbia undergrad. Further, I would never have applied to an MBA program if I was not comfortable enough with math to hold my own. That has been a goal of mine for years, so continuing to believe that I ‘am bad at math’ would have actively hindered me from achieving my goals.
To recap, take either this break or your next break to step into your potential as a great self-leader. First, whether it’s your first time or not, take 30 or 45 minutes and conduct a self-evaluation; strengths, weaknesses, plans to work on or maintain them, short-term goals and long-term goals. Second, identify where you can use support, mentorship, or direction in a given activity or area. Reach out for that help when and where it’s needed; if that looks like tutoring, formal or informal mentorship, or going to office hours, never hesitate to ask. Third, don’t limit yourself based on self-limiting beliefs. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re bad at Math, English, Music, Arts, Science or History. If that is where your passions lie, and you’re willing to put in the work, don’t let naysayers stop you. Self-evaluate, reach out and never self-limit!