“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
First of all, it’s ridiculous that I’m old enough to remember when that song was first released. It was 1987 and my mom took me to Target to do some shopping. As we wandered past the music section of the store, there it was… Michael Jackson’s new album, Bad. I listened to that cassette tape, and specifically the song “Man in the Mirror,” over and over and over again. Even as a kid, I remember thinking, “I want to look in the mirror and make changes!”
As an adult, I’ve realized that looking in the mirror to make changes can be more difficult than it sounds. For instance, I don't know if this is a personality thing or a male/female thing, but when some people look in the mirror they quickly focus on everything that’s wrong and become overwhelmed or depressed. Others, like me, will find the one thing that is right, excitedly focus on that and not even notice the rest of the mess we’ve got going on! (One day, in 2007, I looked in the mirror and exclaimed, “Holy crap, I’m fat!” Turns out, I’d been overweight for about six years and just hadn’t ever noticed. I joined Weight Watchers the next day.) The mirror, both literal and metaphorical, is a difficult beast to master.
Why is it so hard for us to be self-aware sometimes? (It’s not a rhetorical question. Take a second to consider the answers.)
I’m not sure what reasons you came up with, but here’s what I think: a lack of self-awareness is often driven by fear and/or laziness. At least, when I look back on the times in my life where I was really unaware of something big, I can see with hindsight that it was because I was either afraid to face reality or too tired to deal with it.
A few years ago, a friend of mine finally left a bad work situation after several years of being unhappy. As we were talking about how excited she was for new opportunities, I asked her why she had waited so long to move on. As she thought about it, she began to realize that it came down to two things. First, as dysfunctional as her work situation had become, she was accustomed to it. It was the whole “better the devil you know…” thing. We started referring to it as being “comfortable in your dysfunction.” The second conclusion she came to was that she had been afraid to move on. What if she couldn’t find anything better? What if things weren’t as bad as she thought they were? What if she wasn’t as qualified for other jobs as she thought she was? The combination of fear and complacency had kept her in denial of her situation and resulted in inaction.
As we talked, I realized how many times these very qualities had kept me from making positive decisions as well. I mentioned in the introduction that I have, on too many occasions, looked back at a situation and said, “I stayed way too long!” These two factors have always played some role in my staying. I’m smack-dab in the middle of the situation and don’t have the energy or enough discomfort to push me toward the awareness that things aren’t what they should be.
This is a hard one because it requires you to be honest with yourself and consider that you’ve chosen to ignore what’s been going on right in front of you. And that’s the key: it’s a choice. You have to decide to choose awareness! (Oooh… I used two keywords in a row there!) If you don’t, you’ll miss the red flags that signal that something isn’t quite right. How do you choose awareness? Start asking the right questions! Here are a few to get you started:
- Do I feel stuck or unsettled in my current situation? (A general feeling of “non-movement” is a good sign that something is off.) If I do, what is causing that feeling?
- Is it possible that I don’t have the proper perspective to be able to see the situation clearly? How can I get an objective perspective so that I can focus on what’s most important to make more informed decisions?
- Now that I have some perspective, what are the things that I value in an organization or relationship? Are my values in agreement with those of the other party?
- Am I taking responsibility for my actions (or inaction)? Ultimately, only YOU can make the choice to do something about your situation. Only you can look at the man (or woman) in the mirror and make a change. (Thanks, MJ!)
When we ask these questions and truly seek after the answers, we become more aware of our situations and we can choose to make the changes we need to make. If you do find that you’ve become complacent or are operating out of a place of fear, do whatever you need to do to figure out why. When you do, you might just find that it’s #Time2MoveOn!