The Intentional Organisation - Issue #14 - Building Awareness
1. Building Awareness
Awareness is the cornerstone of personal development.
This sentence is almost tautological in its simplicity. Yet it comes out of significant learning that, for me, took more than twenty years to consolidate. The importance of being self-aware of your strengths, your weaknesses, your inner characteristics, your likes and dislikes, your personal purpose, your influence area. Many elements that all come together from different types of journey, each unique the same way we are unique as individuals.
There's no easy recipe.
I've not learned any easy to apply the solution on how to become more self-aware. We often rely on the feedback of others to become aware of ourselves. This is, however, seldom an easy process, because the amount of protective walls we build to protect our selves from the outside world is designed to resist the intrusion of simplistic feedback.
I also distrust many of the ready-made recipes that many authors and books propagate, in terms of five, six, seven steps to self-discovery, or the mastery of this or that meditation techniques.
Don't get me wrong. Meditation and Mindfulness are a vital part of the journey, but too often, we try to apply them as if they were the destination itself. The reality is that we need to define our journey flexibly, being able to move across different boat types, knowing we won't be able to determine the timing of it.
I'm not sure when humankind started its self-awareness discovery. But it is a common trait across multiple cultures that something needs to be done to achieve insights on who we are and how we work. For many, this required a journey that moved from the discovery of the inside ego to transcendence: monks, gurus, ascetics, all conducted lives of discovery for some greater good.
Yet, there is also a much more individual journey, that lives entirely in the words of Socrates:
This principle seems so easy to understand. I've seen it written on so many t-shirts, that it only cannot possibly be complicated. Yet it hides a big truth that takes so much time to understand. As we navigate through our life building experiences, we move from a situation in which we don't easily doubt about ourselves, typical of, youth, to a stage in which we start seeing our certainties crumble under the weight of experience. We begin accepting that doubt, and not certainty becomes the daily spirit of our existence.
This is where awareness is essential. The process of unbuilding and unlearning our certainties can be hazardous for our minds; it is not supported by a thorough understanding of why this happens.
A vivid example is the transition of many of us to a manager level.
How many think that managing people is an easy job?
How many are good at it?
Honestly, the first time I had to manage somebody, I thought it was easy. The more and more I experienced managing people, I understood how this activity is complicated because it implies building the understanding of others, something not easy to be reached if you don't understand yourself.
The Mentoring Toolkit
What has worked most for me in my career has been mentoring. I have started mentoring pretty early in my career, both inside the organisation I have been working for, as well as outside, either through non-profit gigs or only through networking contacts.
I started noticing pretty early, through this activity, that I was getting something out of it unexpected. After each session, I would reflect on what I had learnt, and often this was not trivial at all.
One fact helped me out a lot in terms of awareness. I was holding a course at the University of Bologna, and several students had asked my support for their final thesis. For time constraints I could only really follow three or four per semester, so I had to give myself a process to evaluate the ideas of the students, also because I genuinely intended each of these engagements as an exact mentoring process.
This idea crumbled the day that Mario asked me for support in his final thesis. Why crumbled? Well, Mario was 79 years old, a life spent in the fields. After retiring, aged 67, he decided he wanted to go to school, something that he could not do when he was a child. So he slowly got the "Scuola Media" diploma, then High School, then finally decided to go to University. He wanted to graduate in Non-Profit Management because he wanted to help out a small association he had helped to create. How could I possibly "teach" something to a person with such vast experience was my thought.
It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. An taught me the real value of mentoring, which is to add a new pair of lenses to your current working life, helping to guide your self-awareness without the idea of performance-related feedback, but with the willingness to progress. And this relationship is always bi-directional.
This week I concluded my last mentoring at VF, which confirmed once more how important this tool is for my own personal awareness. The more distant the mentee is from my personality, the more I discovered how important it is to listen and politely investigate how they think and act attentively. Then try to connect them with my internal elements.
Of course, mentoring is particularly useful in the working context. But one of the significant learning for me is that there's not a self that goes to work, and another one that stays home. You learn a lot from both aspects of your life anyway.
Gratitude for these big gifts is the next steps in the awareness journey, and the more I grow, the more I understand how grateful I need to be for all the people I met along the way and taught me something about myself.
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