6 Ways to Develop Self-Awareness and Build the Career of your Dreams

I have a friend who’s a couple of years older than me. When we were growing up together, I looked-up to him because he was always a step or two ahead of me. As we finished high school, our paths began to drift apart. I went to college, worked a part-time job, completed a few internships, and started to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Meanwhile, my friend finished up his undergraduate degree and, having never held so much as a part-time job, decided that he needed to go to graduate school. He finished his first master’s degree and started to get some experience in his chosen field, only to realize that he strongly disliked the work.

By this point, I was moving to Chicago to pursue my first job at a startup, having worked in larger companies while I finished my undergraduate degree. My friend went back for a second master’s degree, and now he’s trying to get an entry-level job in a field he thinks that he’ll like with the burden of over $150,000 in loan debt on his back.

Whenever we get together he asks me, “How did you do it? How did you get into a field you love and not come out of school with a load of debt?”

The short answer is self-awareness.

Self-awareness helps you plot the shortest course to happiness in your life; it keeps you from wasting time pursuing things that you aren’t passionate about and it helps you focus on the things that matter most to you.

So how can you develop self-awareness? How can you put yourself on a career path that is right for you? Here are some things that anyone—regardless of income, education level, or age—can do to build self-awareness.

[bctt tweet="6 Ways to Develop #SelfAwareness and Build the Career of your Dreams, by @KarlLHughes" username="StartupInst"]

Strategies for Developing Self-Awareness:

1. Try a variety of jobs

In college I made milkshakes at Chick-fil-A, delivered catering orders for a sandwich shop, tested washing machines at GE, pitched at business plan competitions, ran a couple of half-marathons, helped lead an engineering fraternity, and taught myself to make websites. It took me six and a half years to finish my undergraduate degree but, by the time I got out, I had tried enough things so that I knew what I did and didn’t want in my career.

Think of your life as a lean startup—experiment with as many jobs as you can in short stints like internships or temporary positions to get a better idea of what you really like and don’t like.

[bctt tweet="Think of your life as a #LeanStartup—experiment to find out what you really like —@KarlLHughes" username="StartupInst"]

2. Invest heavily in education only when you’re sure it’s necessary

Rather than enrolling in a full four-year degree, try taking a few classes at a community college, enrolling in an online course, or getting an internship in your future field. Education can be a great tool for advancing your earning power, but it can also be a very poor investment.

While I would never dissuade a passionate person from pursuing the education necessary to achieve their dream job, I would challenge them to consider whether they truly know exactly what their “dream job” is if they haven’t tried it out yet.

[bctt tweet="Invest heavily in education only when you’re sure it’s necessary, says @KarlLHughes" username="StartupInst"]

3. Don’t stay in roles that aren’t right for you

A toxic work culture that discourages employees from learning, experimenting, or improving themselves can actually hurt your self-awareness. It’s easy to lose sight of the things you are passionate about when you’re stuck in a job that’s not right for you.

If coming into work every day is a battle, it might be a good idea to start looking for a new role. Just remember that new roles sometimes open up internally as well, so this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to change employers.

[bctt tweet="It’s easy to lose sight of what you're passionate about when you’re in the wrong job —@KarlLHughes" username="StartupInst"]

4. Ask for feedback from others

It’s hard to find people who will give you honest feedback, but this can be one of the best ways to build self-awareness. I don’t expect people to offer feedback to me, but I will intentionally ask them for it. I set up times—at least four times per year—to ask my coworkers what I could be doing better and what they think my strengths are. This direct feedback from people who see me every day has been key to building my self-awareness.

[bctt tweet="Feedback from others is key to building your #SelfAwareness, says @KarlLHughes" username="StartupInst"]

5. Take a personality test

One of the best things I did in college was read a book called “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” It confirmed my career choice to become an engineer, and encouraged me to focus on making my strengths as strong as they can be, rather than trying to shore up all my many weaknesses.

[bctt tweet="#NowDiscoverYourStrengths will encourage you to focus on your talents —@KarlLHughes " username="StartupInst"]

If you’ve never taken a personality test, I’d strongly suggest the Clifton StrengthsFinder or Myers-Briggs tests. They may simply validate traits you already knew you had, or you may learn something about yourself. Either way, they’re definitely worth the few minutes they take to complete.

What tips would you offer to professionals or students who are trying to develop their self-awareness? Leave a comment below or mention me on Twitter to keep the conversation going.