Take A Closer Look

The importance of self-discovery for personal and professional development

“Tell me about a decision you made in your career that you now regret”. This was the final interview question asked of me by the hiring manager of a large fortune 200 company. The room went awkwardly silent as I struggled to find an immediate response to ‘wow’ her, clearly it was not a question I anticipated. But after a long, uncomfortable 30-second pause, I found the answer. The explanation I provided was not simply a response, it was the reason I was sitting in front of her at that very moment. A few years prior I made the decision to pursue a new career, leaving the finance role I held at the time to pursue a role in human resources, for which I was currently interviewing. “Before entering college,” I started, “I did a lot of research on the career field I wanted to pursue primarily driven by the lifestyle I wanted, but I didn’t perform the same depth of research on myself. I regret not taking an inventory of my core values, natural abilities, and passions to help me decide on what would be personally meaningful for me in a career.” That was my unrehearsed, unfiltered, and honest answer. She responded with a sincere head nod and smiled. Boom. She loved it, I got the job!

In my early college days, I, like many of us, attempted to define myself before learning about who I really was. I subconsciously ‘told’ myself who I would be, instead of first ‘listening’ to myself to understand who I was. I didn’t realize the importance of the self-discovery process on decisions like my college major that would later, in various forms, impact my career direction. According to the National Center for Education Statistics about 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once. Which doesn’t seem too bad at first glance, but coupled with research from University of La Verne in California, tells another story. Their career services department reported about 50% of college graduates pursue careers that are not related to their majors. 50%, really? Wow!

But what does self-discovery really mean? I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but for me self-discovery is the conscious effort of studying various aspects of yourself and allowing that information to guide your decision-making. It provides clear answers to questions like: What am I good at? What are my core values? What am I really passionate about? I’m a firm believer that every human being on this planet is unique and has something of value to offer, but without knowledge and appreciation of your distinctives, the risk of conforming to popular examples becomes greater. Said another way by Dr. Tony Evans, chaplain for the NBA Dallas Mavericks, “If you don’t pursue your calling”, [that is embrace your uniqueness] “you’ll spend your life wishing you were somebody else.” How we apply the knowledge of ourselves to our career or “calling” should align with our core values, abilities and passions, otherwise we run the risk of being dissatisfied and disengaged.

So, you may be wondering, “where do I begin?” Well, first I’ll admit that there are a lot of different avenues you can take to facilitate the self-discovery process, but I’ll share with you a few resources I’ve used that have been most helpful and enjoyable. The list of resources below are assessments that help answer the following questions: How do I impact others when I’m at my best? What is my preferred thinking style? And lastly, what am I naturally good at?

  1. Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE)

The Reflected Best Self™ Exercise (RBSE) is a feedback seeking exercise that helps you identify and understand your unique strengths and impact on others using stories provided by key people in your life. The RSBE provided me with a new perspective on my strengths through the lens of others and helped me better understand how they impacted those around me. To get the most out of this resource I recommend choosing people whose opinion you value and people who are involved in different areas of your life (e.g. Friends, family, work, church, etc.). Learn More: http://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/cpo-tools/reflected-best-self-exercise-2nd-edition/

  1. Herman Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI)

The Herman Brain Dominance Instrument helps you to identify your preferred natural thinking style and tries to couple it with possible career choices. The HBDI helped me decipher my natural thinking style versus the way I’ve been trained to think and process through formal education. Learn More: https://www.herrmannsolutions.com/

  1. Highlands Ability Battery (HAB)

The Highlands Ability Battery helps to assess your natural abilities and align them to career types using objective work samples. The HAB is probably the most detailed and objective assessment I’ve taken. It’s a 3-hour interactive assessment that uses work samples in addition to inquiry questions. I’ll warn you it is a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it. Learn More: https://www.highlandsco.com/

Lastly, no matter where you are on your career path – just starting out or transitioning, performing ‘homework’ on yourself will save you time and energy and help you make the best decision before you take your next step.

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  1. Insightful post that engages readers with very practical advice on how to get started on the self-discovery process!


    1. Thanks S.A.R. I’m glad you found the post to be insightful!


  2. This post reflects a significant gap in educational planning for K-12 students, and I hope that you are able to scale this conversation across all college career development offices.
    Great post and good resources to get people started on their self discovery journey.


  3. Thank you Christine, I’d love the opportunity to engage career service departments on college campuses!


  4. Great article. Something that I can truly relate to from when u was in college, and at times still ponder on. Thanks for sharing the resources. Definitely insightful and worth looking into.


    1. Thanks Donell!


  5. […] Prepare and practice a 30-second summary of yourself that you can easily remember and naturally share with others. The 30-second ‘elevator speech’ will help you order your thoughts and ensure you share all the key elements of who you are in a short amount of time. A good ‘elevator speech’ should include your accomplishments, strengths and existing or emerging interests. The key is to make it memorable and it will hopefully lead to another longer follow up meeting. {Reflection Tips}. […]


  6. Thanks! Enjoyed reading this post.


  7. Thanks Anton!


  8. […] fun process that is ever maturing and evolving. It’s important to first understand who you are (Self-Discovery) then you can develop a plan to get where you want to be. Be clear on how you want to be perceived […]


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