Key Traits for Career Success | Know Thyself

Woman succeeding at work

This is part 3 of a three part series on the most important traits for career success. If you missed Parts 1 and 2, check them out here and here!

This three part series is expanding on an answer I gave in a recent webinar called “Finding Success in Your Career While Navigating Change.” If you’re going through a change yourself, you can catch it here – you don’t have to be an alum to sign up.

When asked during the webinar what I thought were the most important traits for succeeding in times of change, I (quickly!) came up with:

  1. Optimism
  2. Adaptability / Resilience
  3. Self-awareness

Today, I’m talking about the final trait…


“What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.” – Hellen Keller

Most of us think we’re pretty self-aware. Successful professionals have succeeded somehow and there’s likely been no shortage of performance reviews and self-assessments at corporate retreats to tell us what we’re great and not so great at, what type we are, and why we stress out in certain situations.

But the truth is, most of us aren’t great at understanding ourselves. According to a 2014 study, our correlation between how we see ourselves and objective assessments of what we’re great and terrible at resulted in only a .29 correlation (a 1.0 would indicate perfect self-awareness). So, on average, we humans earn a solid “F” in self-awareness.

And yet, we are obsessed with the notion of it! We take online quizzes and assessments so we can learn our types and explain away our deficiencies or lean into our strengths. We’re obsessed because we inherently know that self-awareness is beneficial not only to our happiness, but also to our success.

In fact, a 2015 review of business teams at a top company found that teams with people that were less self-aware underperformed on a number of measures. So – not only does it damage your personal success and fulfillment, it also could be damaging your team’s.

I’ve had the privilege to work with some very self-aware managers. They knew their strengths and weaknesses and built teams around them to fill in the gaps and support what they needed. Because self-awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence, they were able to give great, constructive feedback and manage our team well.

If it’s so great then….

How do you cultivate it?


  • Stop self-assessments. You heard me. Stop taking self-assessments. Aside from a select few and a very specific type, I’m not a fan of self-assessments. They have the tendency to put you in a box that you use to explain away every action or inaction you take and they aren’t always accurate (because self-assessments are only as accurate as our self-awareness, and we aren’t that great at it, as I explained above). So, we end up relying on this assessment we took that “explains” us when really it’s just us explaining ourselves. Instead…
  • Ask others! The assessments I do think are worthwhile are 360 degree assessments. Those require you to ask others you work with – both above you and below you – to assess you on your strengths and traits. But the beauty is that you can do this any time you want! Just ask others you trust and work with what they think of you! Create a safe environment by explaining that you’re looking for an open, honest assessment of the traits that you have and your effect on others so you know the feedback you’re getting is accurate. Be open to what you hear, and if you get some feedback on what you’re not great at, ask for specifics (not defensively!) and how they think you could improve. Yes, it can be a little weird, but it’s worth it to understand what others think of you and how you can improve.
  • Journal. Uh oh. Here I go again. Talking about journaling. I won’t bore you to death since I’ve written of the benefits here and here. But do it. It’s really one of the best ways to understand yourself – your motivations, your emotions, your triggers, what makes you tick. Do it and review it periodically and I promise you will learn something about yourself.
  • Meditate. Yep. You guessed it. Not even going to hide under the guise of “mindfulness” today. Just meditate. Meditation does not have to be fancy or spiritual or perfectly quiet or serene. All you need to do is try to focus on one thing – it could be your breath, it could be a conversation, it could be your driving (hopefully!) – and try to notice any thoughts outside of that thing as they arise. When you do notice your mind has strayed (and I guarantee it will!) just be aware, and bring it back to the present. It’s that simple, but it does take deliberate practice beyond just moving throughout your day.
  • Plan and track progress. Setting goals and making plans is of course helpful for productivity, but beyond that, tracking how we progress (or don’t) against our goals and plans is a great window into what makes us tick and where we run off course. So, make plans for your days, weeks, months and years and see where you get sidelined. Ask yourself why and you’ll start to see what’s holding you back.
  • Notice where you land in conflict. It seems like so many people are conflict-averse these days. I get that in the “everyone should feel good!” social media world many people live in conflict can seem like a bad thing. But I’m a big believer in conflict as a means to progress and growth. And when it comes to self-awareness, taking stock of conflict and what side you came out on or why there was a conflict in the first place is a great way to understand yourself better. When you experience conflict, don’t just let it pass, take an evaluation of how you performed and why and use that to keep expanding your self-awareness.


Are there limitations?

With this one, I’m not so sure. Greater self-awareness is what we should all be working toward in our lives. The better we understand and really know ourselves, the better we can manage struggles, conflict, and challenging people.

But it’s important to remember that self-awareness is only a part of a emotional intelligence. It’s the foundation, sure, but your work cannot stop at yourself. For self-awareness to be a boon to your career, you have to use your self-awareness to better understand others and your relationships.

For a poignant reading on the danger of too much self-awareness and how it can be used for good, read this.

Anything missing?

What do you think? Am I missing any other traits you think are imperative for success in your career? I’d love to hear what you think!

Next week I’ll explain why hard work is NOT on my list and why we should probably slow down a bit…



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