Developing self


Tina is a 61 year old lady who joins a monthly book club organized by the local newspaper The New Straits Times. It’s a group formed to discuss selected non-fiction books which are intellectually stimulating and enriching – the books are profiled by a journalist, Cheong Suk Wai on her Sunday columns regularly. On one of the evenings where members got together, Tina poured her heart out after a discussion on a book “Words Without Music”written by acclaimed music composer Philip Glass. In the book, Glass wrote about how he drove taxi, fixed pipes and installed toilets for 20 years while pursuing his dream of becoming the world’s greatest composer. She identified with Glass’s struggle and  shared how her teachers wrote her off early on in life…At first, she believed them. She became a housewife and mother but inside her heart of hearts she wanted to pursue a degree. Her son spurred her on and she related how he sat with her side by side when he was a boy and taught her how to use a scientific calculator. At age 50, she graduated with  a double degree in Finance and Human Resource Management! She is 61 now and continues to develop herself.

Remember that “Nobody in going to invest in you but you”. Part of leading ourselves is to be self-directed in our own learning. Be proactive about it. What knowledge and skills you learn is going to be a part of you forever and nobody can take that away. I believe that everybody wants to get better at what they do – it doesn’t matter if you’re a carpenter, a plumber, a cleaner, security guard, manager, artist, etc. We want to get better at what we do. The pursuit of self-mastery is itself a worthy goal to pursue and pursuing mastery is not only highly motivating, it is actually a source of meaning in life.

In one of the TED talks that I’ve watched, the speaker shared 3 steps to be awesome in whatever we do. It’s simple but powerful. The 3 steps are:

1.  Know yourself. Develop self-awareness. How? Often we don’t see ourselves as we are but we see ourselves as we like others to see us. We usually either see ourselves as extremely negative (i.e. poor self-image and confidence) or extremely positive (i.e. high self-image and confidence). We hardly see ourselves as we are. The goal is to find the middle point, which is humility. Develop a sense of humility and get feedback from others. Those of us who have asked for feedback know it’s not as easy as it sounds!  People usually say it takes courage to ask for feedback. It takes courage because we don’t want to feel hurt if the feedback is negative. I find that mustering courage to ask for feedback is less effective. It’s really hard to find the courage to ask for feedback especially at the workplace because if the feedback is negative, we’re worried it means it’ll go against us in the annual performance appraisal. Think of it this way – regardless of what we think of ourselves, others already have a view about us, so asking it only benefits us because we become aware of our impact on others. What if you don’t care about how others view you? Well, it’s not to your benefit  as well because you never know if the views might be valid and those feedback might reach the people whose feedback you care about (e.g. your boss or an important stakeholder).  A more effective approach to ask for feedback is to see it as an act of humility. Humility does not mean you are weak. Being humble doesn’t mean you are weak. When you think of humility, remember this: People who are humble do not think any less of themselves; they just think of themselves less. So, ask for feedback from your boss, your subordinates (if any), your friends and your colleagues.

2.  Pick 1 thing, just 1 thing to improve from the feedback that you receive. There are many things we want to improve but the trick is to pick just one and focus on it.

3.  Practice, practice, practice. This is a law or principle that holds true if we want to improve. We have to practice, practice, practice until it becomes ingrained in us; until it becomes a habit. I tried to learn to play the guitar some time ago. It was really hard. My fingers hurt from pressing the metal strings and when I started to learn, I can’t imagine being able to play a song at all… It just seemed like a process that will take me a long long time. Despite feeling discouraged, I persisted and pressed on. At first, I pressed 3 strings to make a C chord. I practiced and practiced until it sounded like a C chord. Then I learnt the G and D chord. I repeated the practice many times until I could play all 3 chords. Then I practiced how to switch between the 3 chords until it felt natural. The fingers hurt like hell 🙂  but after many weeks, it hurt less and less and with 3 chords I could now play a song!  If you want to improve anything, remember that you have to practice.

The last thing I’d like to share about developing ourselves is to develop a inquiring mind. Always ask questions. Don’t just accept what you’ve read or heard or seen. Ask questions. For example, don’t just accept what I’ve shared with you here. Ask yourself does it make sense? Why did I say what I said? Does it apply in all situations? How can I make it even better?  The process of questioning is a process of learning. It will deepen your understanding of what you’ve read, seen, heard and experienced. Use all the “Wh” (What, Why, When, Where) questions and How question all the time.

Remember, nobody is going to invest in you but you!


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