One time, I told my friend Steve that I was going to ask God to humble me. Steve said, “I wouldn’t do that. Scripture says to humble yourself. You don’t want God to have to do it.”
Along that vein, a few years ago, I embarked on a self-imposed, humbling journey in self-discovery in which I did interviews with five different people, asking questions that elicited mostly-negative responses about ways I could improve my impact on others.
During the interviews, I took copious notes and followed up for clarification where needed. Included in my questions were inquiries into what the person found distasteful about the way I live my life, how it felt to be on the other side of my personality, what they would change about me if they were given the opportunity, and, at the end, what was the last ten percent they were holding back.
Quite frankly, after wrapping up those interviews, I spent the next two weeks feeling mildly depressed. Each interview was unique, but the same themes arose again and again, the same weaknesses highlighted, the same frustrations voiced by a co-worker, a close friend, a pastor, my workout buddy, and my wife.
The interviews were helpful in making me seriously consider, among many other things, the impact my somewhat bold and gregarious approach can have on those who are more subdued or sensitive. But more importantly, it showed me that there’s a difference in merely being self-conscious and actually being self-aware, that being truly self-aware requires regular, sometimes-painful input from others.
Simply being self-conscious is really just one step away from being totally oblivious to your impact on others. You just assume you know how it feels to be on the other end of your personality; you do a shoddy job of covering it up; and you conveniently never have hear it from the people who actually have to live with you.
Almost every time I have shared my interview experience with others, they have said, “I don’t think I could do that.” And who would want to? The truth hurts and makes us feel embarrassed that we don’t have it all together; it reminds us how we’re not fooling anyone, that we really are the immature individuals we thought we’d done such a good job of hiding.
But if we choose to swerve all over the highway, intentionally ignoring the mirrors which tell us we’re leaving a wake of havoc behind us, we run a very serious risk of doing damage we never wanted to do, of hurting people and never knowing it.
We can choose to be oblivious, self-conscious, or self-aware. Being oblivious will leave us with a false sense of superiority. Being self-conscious will drive us to cover up your weaknesses out of insecurity. But true self-awareness will open the floodgates of humility and drive us to your knees in prayer (it might also drive us to apologize to people we’ve hurt).
Choosing to open ourselves to criticism can be unpleasant, but if my personal experience is any indicator, it can help us move beyond our fixation on our best intentions to the reality of how we’re impacting those around us.
If you’d like an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here. You can also keep up with my latest articles (and more) on Facebook or Twitter. This post originally appeared on my blog in 2010.