This has always been my favorite leadership principle (see USMC 11 leadership principles). The full principle is “Know yourself and seek self improvement”. It has always seemed to me that the hardest part is what gets left off… knowing yourself. With our busy schedules, and with 4 kids my schedule has been full for a long time, finding the time for introspection is not easy. But I’ve always managed to find at least some time for it, even in a busy schedule. When things seemed to be going the wrong way, and the problems started building up, the first thing I would do is look inward to see how I could improve myself to make things better.
I’m not saying that I’ve never blamed others for my problems, that would be a lie. I will say that I’ve never solved my problems that way. Blaming others may feel better, but it is not going to lead to self-improvement, and it is unlikely to make a positive difference in your life. It is a distraction and a barrier to finding a way to change, to finding a solution.
Knowing yourself is hard because it is difficult to really look at yourself objectively. You have to look at yourself through the eyes of others… think back to criticism you have received. Open your mind to the possibility that the criticism was valid. Of course if they say “your nose is not pug enough for me”, don’t run out for plastic surgery. Maybe that is something they should work on! But if they dug a little deeper than that, even if the way they told you was indirect or unkind, think about what they said, think about it from their perspective. Why did they say it, was it valid. Think about your reaction to their criticism. Were you defensive? Let go of defensiveness and take responsibility. You have to own it before you can fix it.
I’ve met a lot of people who seem to think they are perfect, or at least give off that vibe… but I’ve got news for them – NO ONE IS PERFECT. There is not enough time in single lifetime to even come close. But that is no reason not to improve, just be sure you prioritize. I love the fact that no one is perfect. Knowing that no one is perfect makes it easier to admit to myself that I am not perfect. It is easier to know yourself if you accept your imperfection.
The rest is much easier. See the knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to improve, an opportunity to change your life – one improvement at a time. Build on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. The change may not be a 180 degree change in the direction of your life, but if you apply yourself, it will be worth the effort.