Self Awareness and Reflection for Success

Well this is exciting. I am quite pleased that Wajihah asked me to help her out with her endeavor, Re-Spect Science. While I don’t work directly in the scientific community anymore, it still plays an important role in my life; to a point of course. For those of you who don’t know me, I tend to dabble into a variety of things that don’t seem to have any connections to one another; seem being the operative word. By day I am a banker, by early evening I am a graphic design artist, and by late evening I am a comic book artist. I plan on using each and every one of these facets of my life to contribute to this blog, and this first post will be no different. So let’s continue.

For my first post and to follow on a new year’s resolution theme, I want to touch on something that I think is currently lacking, I believe, in our scientific and academic training- the idea of self-reflection and awareness. Our scientific training is based heavily on other people critiquing us as trainees, peers, and colleagues. It involves others giving us their advice on what we should do, and that’s great…to a point of course. This idea of others critiquing is seen in every part of our career choice in academia really; from our professors grading our papers and committee meetings, to peer-reviewed papers, all until your colleagues determine if your grant should be funded. However, there is one key issue with this: it trains you to be exactly what they think is the current ‘gold standard’ by academic criteria. Something that may or may not meet the student’s short and long-term goals.

That last sentence gives segue into the main point of this blog, self-awareness and reflection. Most students (I would hope all to be honest) do have their own individual goals and long-term aims. Now, I am speaking heavily out of experience here, but by being truthful to yourself can be more important to your success then what a group of “experts” can tell you. I mean, who knows you better than you, right? For example, if your supervisor tells you that you’re lacking in your writing skills, it doesn’t mean you can’t write, it means you can’t write in their style (assuming you follow the rules of grammar).

Now, the importance of the functionality of self-reflection is limited to one simple part – being honest with yourself; and it is hard to do (trust me on this one). For example, if you’re lacking in your abilities with certain skills, such as public speaking, tell yourself that and acknowledge that. Reflect on one of your latest speaking engagements and think about how you did. By telling yourself, and I mean it in the full sense of the word, you should actually write it down. From there you need to act on that issue and follow through with a plan to fix it. And ‘fix’ is the correct word. It implies that you have the capacity to change it, you just need to figure out how to do it, per se. Pending the skill in question as well, how you fix it, is based on what the skill is that needs to be fixed. For example, if you need to learn sales, maybe getting a part-time job in a retail outlet will help (sales is important for any industry based career regardless of your education level).

So here is the crux of what I am trying to say: regardless of where you want to end up, you’ll need to continually self-reflect on what you’re doing, the skills that you have and how you need to make it work for you. It’s not based on what your committee tells you, not what your parents tell you, not what your peers tell you, not what I tell you. By self-reflecting, you will see exactly what you need to do for yourself to get you where you need to go. It’s a process customized for yourself by you and no one knows you better then you.

This is how, speaking from a personal opinion and experience, once I was honest with myself and realized what I needed to get ahead in a new field while using the knowledge I gained from my scientific background, it allowed me to build on what I have and gain new skills to enter a path I wanted to be in. I also took the time to look at how I speak, dress, and present myself on a regular basis (almost daily if you include me going over how I spoke at during meetings while I drive home).

It is important to mention that you shouldn’t add self-reflection as something like a to-do. This makes it work, you need develop the need to just want to do it per se. What I mean is make it part of your routine after you do something. Not necessarily right after, but at some point. We have all taken a large amount of time prepping for a particular thing such an exam, presentation, date, whatever. People should always do a post-event reflection too, you can determine, in your opinion where you can improve or keep doing since the reception was well.

Finally, self-reflection isn’t limited to skills (that is just the simplest way to describe it). It can be applied to emotional states, persona, how you dress, how you interact with others, and even your overall demeanor. Each aspect is important in becoming the best person you can be. But always remember, it is important that you figure out what you need, what you can offer to get where you need to be and where you want to go!

Matthew S. Lytwyn