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A Different Type of Self-Awareness

This post includes a simple summary

This is a big topic, with ideas that are difficult to write about in very simple terms. So, I’ve summarized the key points at the bottom. If, at any point, you find this post too heavy and want the simple version, click here to view the summary.

I talk a lot about self-awareness and how vital it is as a tool for growth.

One of the more important posts I’ve written was about creating your own user guide to share your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, rocket fuel, and other behavioral patterns with those you work with. This exercise necessitates that you uncover those traits in yourself.

I continue to believe that self-awareness is incredibly important and something that we should dedicate significant curiosity toward routinely exploring.

Today, I want to introduce a “new” element to that conversation. Self-awareness doesn’t stop with simply understanding ourselves.

The First Level of Self-Awareness

The first level of self-awareness is about what we know about ourselves. It includes our strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, habits, and other various behaviors. This is introspection 101.

Referring to it as 101 is not to diminish it’s importance, but rather to show where it sits in our self awareness curriculum. It is the first step.

This work may be done on our own, with a therapist, or with a coach. This level of self-awareness sets the conditions for being able to open ourselves up to feedback from the outside world and provides our first tools for personal growth.

The Second Level of Self-Awarenessgirl in blue shirt holding smartphone

Now that we “know” ourselves, we should examine our personal context.

This step helps us to understand our unique combination of attributes that extend beyond behavior. In this case, I’m referring to things like your gender, sexuality, class, religion, race, neurotype, ableness, etc

  • I’m talking about whether you grew up in a two parent household or one.
  • I’m talking about whether your school was well-funded or lacking in resources.
  • I’m talking about whether you felt comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth, that likely matched your external sex characteristics
  • I’m talking about whether your community growing up was filled with lawyers, bankers, and doctors, or somewhere more blue collar and/or possibly over-policed.
  • I’m talking about the types of trauma you may have endured, unique to your (mostly) unchosen circumstances.

Your second level of self awareness is to understand yourself in the context of society, and the place you’ve been both born into and navigated within. Seeing those factors and the various doors that it would open or close, is helpful in contextualizing what you learned from self-awareness Step 1. It’s also critical to do this work as we move into Step 3.

The Third Level of Self-Awareness: Systemic Self-Awareness

2 men in black jacket riding on black and blue stroller during daytime

Taking advanced courses often requires the completion of prerequisites for a reason. Because it would be virtually impossible to understand the latter topics without the foundational coursework. It is only after going through the first two steps that we can fully appreciate and understand the third level of self-awareness: systemic self-awareness.

It is at this level that we begin to see ourselves as inextricably connected to a system larger than ourselves. We, as individuals, are undefined when we are untangled from and isolated from the society in which we exist. What and who we are, is contextualized by who we are in relation to others.

  • No one is an alpha personality when they are alone.
  • No one is oppressed without someone to do the oppressing.
  • No one is disabled in the absence of an environment designed for specific abilities.
  • No one is poor without someone existing who is rich.
  • No one is “white” without someone to be deemed “black.”

At the start of this post, I referred to this post as a “new” element of self-awareness. I added the quotes because, generally speaking, this is usually only a new element for my white readers. This is because the less an individual is harmed by a system, the more invisible that system becomes. It’s the fish that asks “what is water?” Those who are continually harmed, become keenly aware of the patterns and structures that create the system.

Privilege refers to the benefit of not seeing particular systems at work.

Systemic self-awareness is where we begin to see how certain aspects of who we are, can be seen as partially the product of our context, laid out in step two, and then how that context fits into the systems we exist within. Most self-awareness stops at quirks and talents. Some go a little further to understand an individual’s context. But rarely does self-awareness involve interrogating the self in the context of an interconnected system because to do so would undermine the idea that we are in complete control of who we are (newsflash: We aren’t).

The big question is: can you really know yourself if you do not understand the systems of power, privilege, oppression, exploitation, and generational trauma that you are either included or excluded in simply as a byproduct of existing, as yourself?

Why go past Level 1

At this point, I probably lost a percentage of readers who saw the words privilege or systemic and decided this post is “too woke” for their taste. There are probably a few of you who already agree with the premise. And then there’s some who may be still be curious what this has to do with business, growth, or becoming superhuman? Perhaps you’re just waiting for me to explain the value of engaging in deeper self-awareness.

So, for you, I’ll wrap this up with a few questions and a call to action.

  • If all you know of yourself is your behavior and tendencies, but not the abundance of conditions that have contributed to it, do you truly understand it?
  • If you see your behaviors as individual traits and not ones linked with systems that have positively and negatively affected those you encounter, do you truly understand the impact of your words and actions?
  • If you want to lead a team of individuals, but do not see that each of them is playing their game on a fundamentally different board than you, can you actually empathize with them, coach them, or lead them?

If you wish to be a great leader, or even more importantly, a great human being, then you cannot see yourself as an island. Your self-awareness cannot remain limited to that which you know of yourself, understood independently of the context which gave rise to your formation of “self.” You can only make the world a better place by understanding the world that you wish to change, understanding your place within it, and find a way to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to thrive.

In short, there can be no move to a world that is kinder, safer, and more equitable until you understand the causes and your relationship to those causes, that lead to the absence of kindness, the lack of safety, and the exclusion of equity.

Click here to read a summary of this post

Self-awareness is important for personal growth.

It means knowing about your strengths, weaknesses, habits, and behaviors. This can be done alone, with a therapist, or with a coach.

The first level of self-awareness is about understanding yourself.

The second level is about understanding yourself in the context of society. This means looking at factors like your gender, sexuality, class, religion, race, childhood, and any trauma you may have experienced.

The third level of self-awareness is called systemic self-awareness. This means understanding how you fit into larger systems, such as systems of power, privilege, oppression, exploitation, and generational trauma. This level of self-awareness helps you understand how your context and the systems you are a part of have shaped who you are.

It’s important to go beyond just the first level of self-awareness to have a complete understanding of yourself. This deeper self-awareness can help you see the systems at work, understand your place in the world, and how you might be able to change it.

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