Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is too much of self-awareness a liability?

Please listen to this interview of Kangana Raut. Kangana Raut is very honest in her answers and seems to express herself without any hesitation. Her self awareness is refreshing and appealing. For instance, she is clear that she was very 'insecure' after her initial success with Gangster and picked up wrong movies. Or that her 'style-sense' emerges from her middle class background that keeps on reminding her that she does not belong to the industry. Or her candid acceptance about the state of her house, because 'women were treated as secondary citizens' even in her house when she compared with her brother.

Her self-awareness is striking and shocking because she is just 26. Being a developmental coach, who charts an output path of individuals to anticipate and prepare them for the challenges in their development, i am glad to see the emergence of self. Unfolding of Self is the first important milestone of development through which the individual takes charge of his/her life. It starts with self-awareness ( i know i am different than parents), which later grows into self-knowledge ( i am aware of my emotions, beliefs and key drivers). After this, the individual learns to mange his Self (instead of fighting my weaknesses, i start using them), and 'takes the steering wheel ' of his/her life.

But, in my practice of coaching professionals over last 6 years, i am also surprised to watch how this self-awareness, if it comes too early, can sometimes de-rail the development of an individual or raise more difficult challenges for the individual. Here are some situations that i have observed:

1. Too early self awareness compels a professional on spending time to find answer to the question "What is purpose of life?"

Ajit, a very bright student was graduating from IIT. His self-awareness was very high, and he used to ask me questions ( like why are some people born with so little money, or what is God, or is the universe moving ahead by some laws) that were way ahead of his age. Ajit gradually started taking interest in Hare Krishna movement, and before finishing his graduation, decided to spend a year of his studies in doing Yoga and meditation. 

Early self awareness raises lot of questions on the 'purpose of life', for which the individual is not matured enough to find answers. The answers, even when they are available, are not understandable. The individual loses track of his output path and over-focuses on this question, even when he is not ready. Luckily, Ajit remained in touch with me and family. He returned after a year. 

2. Too early onset of Self awareness forces one to 'find ones motivation engine' in the 'purpose category' ( following from above point 1)

Typically, in the output path, one finds motivation through external motivation engines like money, power and reputation. Although, self help authors and coaches belittle these motivations, they help the individual to focus on the development of their cognitive abilities and character traits ( the 2 Cs of talent). By the time they are ready to shift to internal motivation engine, these individuals have got the appropriate maturity to deal with the unexpected, and also gained the right level of confidence to weather the storm. In other words, they are ready.

But these highly self aware individuals start searching their internal motivation in only one path ' Purpose of life'. They ignore other equally relevant triggers of internal motivation such as passion, expertise, and significance. Because of this over-commitment on purpose, they spend their valuable time and energy looking 'inside'. In the professions ( output paths) like writing or consulting this could be  helpful. But in many other professions, this derails a person's output-path.

3. High degree of self awareness can create difficulty in relationship 

In our relationships, we switch from one role to another: father/mother, buyer, seller, friend, neighbour, employer or employee. Each role demands a certain protocol and behaviour to be effective. For instance, in the role of employer, you may have to take a very strict action against 'cheating' because of its influence on other employees. On the other hand, in the role of father you may take a more lenient view if your child has 'stolen' something, because he can learn from his mistakes.

Individuals with high self-awareness cannot switch from one role to another, because they worry about making their behaviour 'consistent' between the roles. If they are not consistent, they call themselves a hypocrite - a person who behaves differently than from what he says. Caught in this dilemma, they constantly catch themselves behaving 'inappropriately' to the role/situation. And they keep on paying the price of this mistake. When they cannot shift from the role of buyer to seller, they lose money on the table. When they cannot shift from the role of 'subordinate' to 'boss', they lose authority.

4. High degree of Self awareness makes it very difficult to get 'feedback' from others

Feedback from others is a big source of one's development and growth. However, for individuals whose self awareness is high, they find it very difficult to find 'mentors' and 'role models' because they have unknowingly raised the bar of evaluating people. Naturally, they find no 'helpful feedback' from friends, elders or mentors. They are on their own.

Either they keep second-guessing their own behaviour all the time, which others misinterpret as 'lack of confidence'. In certain professions, like in acting , this can directly hamper performance. Or these individuals become so introspective ( finding their own answers to difficult questions), that they lose the fire to get the most from life. They get satisfied with their inner quest.


Everyone of this challenge can be overcome by application of thought and practice. But, the person with high self awareness cannot use the solutions of others. They cannot find mentors like others. They cannot engage in relationships like others. They cannot be happy with external motivators like others. For them, every problem becomes a 'different problem'.  Their high degree of self awareness has made normal solutions inapplicable to them.

Isn't that a paradox? In my 6 years of coaching experience I have repeatedly observed this phenomenon: a strength becomes a weakness at some point of life and the same weakness can become a strength in a different situation.  I call this the law of relative strengths/weakness. It states "Traits and abilities are not positive or negative by themselves; they are positive or negative, based on the output system in which your traits and abilities are used". Self-awareness becomes a weakness for them, because they are forced to find their own solutions; they cannot use the solutions of others. 

Because any ability/trait can become a weakness or strength depending on the output, one cannot list down a comprehensive list of abilities/traits that are ideal for a professional. One can only list down a minimum list of abilities/traits that can prevent a professional in achieving anything in life, but no one can make a comprehensive list of abilties/traits that can guarantee successful output in life. 

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