Designers throw around “self-awareness” like it was a cardinal virtue. But I sometimes wonder if we really know what it means and not misusing it.
It’s a tried and trite experiment: Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Say half-full, you’re an optimist.
Half-empty? A pessimist.
A similar discourse happens in design circles when we say “self-awareness”. It’s such a common word that I wonder if we truly know its meaning (or if we’re just going along with the crowd).
Let’s test it through an expression! 🙂
“X is out of my league…”
The expression “out of my league” communicates something beyond reach. There is something, x, that is so unreachable you wouldn’t likely try (even if you could).
I sometimes ask myself what’s going on in the mind of the person saying, “X is out of my league”. Is she being honest that x is objectively beyond reach? Or is she just thinking negatively to save herself from disappointment?
I find there is a difference between the two; and it often plays out in an expression designers love bandying around – “self-awareness”.
Self-Awareness or Self-Criticism?
When I look at Design Twitter, you get the sense that self-awareness = humility. The ability to admit you don’t have everything and need people around you to make dreams a reality.
It is a nice sentiment to have (a sorely needed one, indeed). But I also wonder if the ‘self-awareness = humility’ equivalence is justified. I don’t have a fulsome treatment of it like I normally would. But it’s safe to say I’m skeptical. Really skeptical.
So back to my example: When someone says “X is out of my league”, is someone really being honest about one’s limitations? Or is he/she giving up without even trying (“I can’t do it. Why even try?”)?
A Friend or a Judge?
It’s been said that the Inner Critic is the “CEO of Quality Control”, and it usually does this job rather well.
But what if that same critic prevents you from trying something (you might succeed at) all because you were skeptical about it?
Think about the last opportunity you considered applying for. Did your Inner Critic advised you to “tread carefully” because “here be dragons”? Or did it tell you, “Don’t even dare!” because “you don’t have what it takes”?
How many times have we refused our dreams because we “don’t have it”?
Do we really, objectively not have it?
Or do we just think we do not have it?
You’ll find, if you think about it really carefully, that there is a vast difference between the two.
One is a thoughtful assessment of what you need to succeed, while the other just says “you’re guilty!” without a trial.
The question then is: What world do I wish to live in? A world that encourages growth (through honest and thoughtful self-assessment)? Or something deathly afraid of failing and learning?
Think about that for a second.