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The first step towards success? Know yourself.

Kate Rowbotham

There’s something very unique about your personal career journey: YOU. So, whether your goal is to get ahead or to find more satisfaction, dedicate some time to learning more about yourself. Kate Rowbotham, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, explains how.


By Hailey Eisen


How well do you really know yourself? When was the last time you stopped to check-in to see if your job and career trajectory were in alignment with your strengths, passions, and values?

According to Kate Rowbotham, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, the more self-aware you are, the better prepared you’ll be to navigate your career forward.

“Those who over- or underestimate their own abilities tend to struggle more with a willingness to learn and accept feedback,” she explains. “Self-awareness, simply put, is about knowing your motivations, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses — and understanding how those impact your thoughts and actions.”

If developing a strong sense of self-awareness seems like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. Rowbotham provides some simple steps — all of which she recommends to her own students — to help you check-in and take stock of where you’re at, personally and professionally.


Ask yourself some important questions

When you want to get to know another person, the best way to start is by asking them questions. Well, the same is true when it comes to getting to know yourself better. Rowbotham recommends a blog post written by Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project, as an excellent resource to begin with. In this post, Rubin poses a number of questions for self-reflection including: Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? Especially in control? Are you motivated by competition? These types of questions can help you better understand your behaviours, habits, choices and how they’re governed, maybe even unconsciously, by the type of person you are, Rowbotham explains.

“You’ll want to take some time on your own to reflect on these questions and your answers to them,” she advises. “The practice of journaling can be really helpful to get your thoughts flowing.”


Check in with those who know you best

Sometimes it helps to understand how others see you or to test your theories about yourself with those who know you best. “The next step in self-reflection is to turn to those closest to you — family, friends, colleagues — and ask for their input,” Rowbotham advises. Sometimes you’ll find you’re perceived differently depending what role you’re playing: daughter, mother, friend, manager, colleague. So, checking in across the various areas of your life might help provide a more holistic picture.


Celebrate successes and leave room for improvement  

“One exercise I do with my students after every presentation or project they complete, and with my own teenage daughter after ever competitive hockey game she plays, is to make time for reflection. The same probing questions work no matter the context. The first is to list two areas that went well and the second is to list two areas that you can improve upon.” The opportunity here, she explains, is to think about everything in terms of how you can continuously be growing and developing your skills and expertise. The same sort of check-in on your strengths (what’s going well) and areas for improvement can be scheduled into your calendar on a monthly basis.  

“The risk of not checking in, or forgetting how important self-awareness can be, is that you get five or 10 years down the road and you find yourself in a job that’s unfulfilling or you realize you have a general sense of dissatisfaction with your life,” Rowbotham explains.


Find creative ways to fill the voids.

Another question worth asking yourself is: What are some of the things you love to do, but rarely make time for? “While we can’t always find joy in the work we’re doing, it’s important to find a way to incorporate our passions — the things we love — into our lives in some way.” Whether it be making more time in your personal life to explore hobbies and interests, or working with your manager or boss to re-construct your job in a way that allows you to draw that extra value, the key is to know what you love and find a way to make it part of your life.


Be your own advocate  

Once you have a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses, your preferences, and your personality, you’ll be in a better position to ask for what you want within your current job, or to look for a job that better meets your needs and desires. Whether you’re thinking of going back to school, making a career change, looking for a new job, or finding a way to make your current job work better for you — self-awareness is key to satisfaction and success.



Read more about how getting in touch with yourself can help advance your career with Karen Jackson-Cox, Executive Director of the Business Career Centre at Smith School of Business.