Why knowing yourself is important to best practice

Why knowing yourself is important to best practice

Before all else, we must know ourselves. Who we are on the inside will flow through and affect everything we do.

Let´s jump in! Boil the jug, make yourself a hot drink, turn on some of your favourite music, and put aside a little bit of time for some inner delving.

Know thyself

This concept of self-knowledge is so important that it shows up across cultures and time. It was carved into the Apollo Temple at Delphi in Greece some 2000 years ago, and also finds itself throughout other belief systems such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Plato argued that to know others, we must first know ourselves. Understanding our own complex feelings, emotions and thoughts provides us with insight to how others may think and feel. We can act with more compassion and do better, more effective work.

So what can you learn about yourself?

You are not the creator of all of your beliefs

Let’s start with the aspects of ourselves that we cannot change. They are the pieces of our identity that we are born with and inherent to us.

The way we see the world is influenced by our experience of it. All aspects of who we are – our colour, where we live, our gender – all of our experiences, being, and learning shape how we see the world and the work that we do in it.

So have a think – what makes you, you? Are you White, Black, Latin, Asian, something else? Are you straight or gay, bi? Are you a woman or a man or something else? Are you religious and what belief system do you follow? How do each parts of your identity shape who you are? What beliefs do you carry about the world? How do all of the parts of you fit together to shape your specific world view? Your family might be from one place, but maybe you grew up in another place. All of the intricacies of who you are make who you are.

Why the heck am I here?

Before going anywhere or doing any work, we should be clear on our purpose. What are we wanting to achieve? Understanding the why behind that is even better. Why is it that I want to help others? Purpose is something that we can chase our entire lives. They can be small or big, long or short. I like Tara Mohr´s position that your calling may change throughout your life. I would also argue that while our callings might change, we all have an overall purpose or effect that we want to leave on the planet.

The billboard statement exercise, used by Coaching Training Institute (CTI) and Jennifer Lee, can be useful to figure that out. So if you had to put one message on a billboard, what would it be?

Professional influences that shape us

Our personal experiences of the world often connect with our theoretical leanings. Jan Fook argues that usually going to university and learning about different models and theorists doesn´t change the way we see the world. Instead, we look for and identify with those models and theories that confirm our experience of the world. Coming back to the idea of reflexivity, it is powerful to know and acknowledge our theoretical influences. We can use them as foundations for our work. We can lean on them in times of uncertainty, to explain what is challenging us, and use it to find answers and solutions to problems we face.

Do you have any favourite theorists or models for work? When you are in the middle of an argument with a colleague about how to do something, whose ideas do you use to back up your argument? What informs the way you do your work? What theories or models  do you most identify with?

How does this all help us in practice?

John Heron argued that emotional competence is essential to helping others. He says, ´emotional competence… For helpers, this means that their own anxiety and distress, accumulated from past traumatic experience, does not drive and distort their attempts to help… Emotionally educated people will be able to work on their distress and suffering, and to take charge of it enough to liberate their helping from it.´

We aren´t delving into trauma or psychology here, but the importance of having strong and clear foundations of who we are clear. In world-changing work, we are working to help someone or something, whether it be people or the environment. Being self-aware helps us to bring our best self to do our best work. Self-care is part of this equation to keep us with a full cup, but it also starts as a base – to be aware of ourselves and what might get in the way, distort or harm the work we want to do, and what gives us strength, clarity and purpose.