During the Advent period of 2019, the team of in-Depth shared a thought and some comments on it every day to show how we connect to the world. I was collecting quotations for this advent calendar, when I came across this:

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
/Carl Gustav Jung/

I jotted down a few thoughts inspired by the quote: Self-knowledge and self-awareness. I believe that these two things work wonders, they are awakening and bring a qualitative change into our lives.
In the meantime, a few memories came flashing back to me about what other people said about self-knowledge. Degrading or, on the contrary, mystifying adjectives and an attitude forced onto everybody: „you MUST go to self-knowledge!!! Whether you want to or not. I’ve just been. You’re over 40 and you still haven’t been!”

No, you don’t. You don’t HAVE TO go. You might even be doing it at some level. It’s not even worth it unless you decided to do so. Do what exactly?

Warning! In the following passages I will share ideas beyond the framework of business life.
I will do so because although company developments always respect the framework of privacy, I believe that, as a leader and a person, it is worth knowing about the existence of deeper layers as well. Even if we don’t venture there.

Where exactly? What is self-knowledge in the first place?

Our past is present in all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The way we make sense of an event, the emotions and the behaviour with which we react to it are driven mostly by our subconsciously working automatisms and instincts. These automatisms and patterns which we carry along since our childhood define our behaviour and relations. These unconscious, learned patterns imprison us, leaving us no free will.

Where is this extreme anger coming from? Why do I shrink or freeze in certain situations? Why am I so competitive? Why do I get jealous all the time? Why am I scared?

The actual triggering stimulus is easy to identify, but it is harder to put our finger on the real, deeply underlying context, which makes us react (over and over again) in a way we wouldn’t like.

Self-knowledge helps me be free, take responsibility for my own life, and gain self-esteem.

To be free so that I can decide how to react to certain situations instead of being driven by habits.
To take responsibility for my own happiness, my ambition instead of handing control over to someone else and being dependent on other people’s behaviour.
(e.g. our relationship has been on the rocks since we moved, we should have stayed in the previous flat/ I’ll be happy once my husband stops doing this or that…/ I’d do a much better job if my workmate wasn’t so annoying…)
Self-esteem is often confused with being self-important or conceited, although they are very different concepts with very different outcomes. Self-importance conveys superiority, the idea of „I am better than you.”
Self-esteem or loving ourselves is a statement about our own value. If I appreciate myself, I can also appreciate others, if not, I often feel envy or anxiety towards others.

If I’m locked in a prison, I will sooner or later bump into its walls: life will put me into situations where I don’t react in ways I feel fit, where I will get stuck and slow down or feel like I’m on the wrong side of the highway, racing the opposite direction.

I picture our self-knowledge as a never-ending spiral. With each step, we get to a new part where we can spectate ourselves from a new perspective, armed with new resources and so we can reach deeper experience and understanding. This also means that the same topic might resurface on the way, shedding light on the past from a different perspective and ensuring a richer understanding.

Self-knowledge is important for a company because we would like to have free-minded and responsible colleagues. Healthy self-esteem is indispensable for real cooperation. The good news is that some levels can be improved within organizational frameworks as well.

We might tackle self-knowledge at three levels at three different volumes of depth, all three having a close connection with each other.

1. Self-reflection
2. Convictions, beliefs
3. Personal history

I will elaborate on these levels in the next part.