The Value of Self Awareness

A man who has just graduated from University.  MR YES.Last year during commencement season, a speech by a high school teacher struck a chord among the public and went viral.  It was focused on why all of the kids going off to college ARE NOT SO SPECIAL.

Outside of my day job running Military MBA, I volunteer to help traditional students and their non-military families with college admissions. In this setting, I felt the “not special” commencement speech was very appropriate and long overdue. That’s why I posted it across all of our websites and in social media. It seems a strong dose of humble pie and more profound perspective on all aspects of life would take traditional college students and their parents much further than paying for a private tutor to boost an assessment test score a point or two.

However, in the context of military leaders transitioning to civilian education, careers and leadership positions quite the opposite is true. You need to focus more on how you can stand out and be special in the civilian world. This includes taking credit for your accomplishments and becoming more outspoken about your skills and talents.

I understand that “standing out” is not a skill which is highly valued or effectively taught in the military. Our national service is volunteer. Success is all about the mission and mostly defined as being part of the team. Service members are mostly humble and understand that they are, in fact, not special. You start to lose this attitude in boot camp and constantly suppress your ego while serving others on active duty.

Now one of the keys to successful transition for you is to get some form of this attitude back. The whole point of your education and employment is to improve yourself and circumstances. This is especially true as it relates to continuing your education and working in a meaningful job. Success is about self-awareness (i.e., knowing where you excel and taking credit for your accomplishments) and being able to effectively translate these qualities as results to people who make decisions such as admissions directors and hiring managers.

Interestingly enough, because the military has instilled good team and mission awareness in you, it won’t be that difficult to reframe the discussion and get more comfortable freely talking about yourself in a new setting. As you transition to civilian life, just be more aware of yourself and your capabilities.

Last week in the Career Section of the Wall Street Journal, an article discussed the importance of self assessment as a core soft skill employers are looking to hire in new employees. As part of this, the reporter said, “Most people are uncomfortable with self-promotion, but hard work (and accomplishments) don’t get noticed without a little help.”

So, I would advise you to start thinking differently about yourself in civilian life. You can still be humble and grounded in values while speaking candidly about your accomplishments, results, outcomes and successes. This new mindset is considered to be self-awareness and it is a soft skill that needs to be developed and actively practiced outside of your classes.

No matter how you reframe self-awareness, get comfortable talking about yourself in the civilian world.

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