Know Thyself (And Thy Work)

One-on-one critiques beg for a healthy dose of self-awareness - not to be confused with self-consciousness (I'll bring plenty of that on my own.). This weekend I'm headed to the Austin Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Working Conference. Like a lot of conferences, there will be networking and keynotes, break-out groups and catching up with old friends. There will also be one-on-one critiques.

A very timely recent podcast reinforced some great advice I've received in the past - not only for the daunting work of receiving critiques, but for critical learning conversations with your partner, your boss, your friends and more. 


What is self-awareness?

According to Tasha Eurich, author of Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and Life, self-awareness has an internal component - knowing ourselves - and an external component - knowing how other people see us. These are independent skills - you may be great at one and not the other. Good news is, you can improve both.

Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.
— Marie (Carrie Fisher) from When Harry Met Sally

Why does self-awareness matter?

Studies have shown that people with self-awareness make better decisions and are happier, more confident, more successful and more fulfilled. But in a society that's become, in Eurich's words, "more self-absorbed and less self-aware," we may not have a clear idea how to start doing the work of awareness. Work that extends from our person to our understanding of how our stories and art are seen and received in the world.

How do I develop self-awareness?

No way around it. To build the external component, you have to be brave. Baby step? Ask a trusted person what they see you doing well that you might not be noticing. Feeling more advanced? Ask "What do I do that's especially annoying?" Or "What do you see me doing that's holding me back?" Then the hard part. You listen.

Self-awareness is a continuing process of reconciling our views with others - which is why the internal piece matters. Otherwise you may find yourself swinging from opinion to opinion without a clear idea of what your essential truth is.

Self-awareness and Your Work

Back to this weekend's conference - a critique is an opportunity to receive external feedback on the same questions we detailed above "What am I doing well?" "What is annoying?" "What is holding this piece back?" And the advice for taking in that information is the same, whether we're talking personal self-awareness or work insights. Here are five steps to help you make the most of feedback opportunities:

  1. Listen.
  2. Ask questions if you don't understand a piece of feedback. (Note: This does not mean harangue your critiquer if you don't agree with what you're hearing.)
  3. Feel the feelings.
  4. Give yourself time and comfort.
  5. Don't worry about what you're going to do about the information until you are hours/days/weeks out and feel more grounded and ready to address.

This type of knowledge can only improve your work. But if none of this is resonating? Listen on to hear if you're one of three types of unaware people. (Kidding. But don't worry - there's still hope for one of the three types...) 


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