Self-Reflection: A Practical Guide From Career Coaches

In career coaching, we talk a lot about self-reflection.  To know where to take your career, it’s critical to have a strong sense of your goals, strengths, passions, and values.  So:  how can we self-reflect? How can we learn about ourselves? What are some techniques we can use?  What are some questions we can ask ourselves?  What are some resources we can take advantage of?  What can we read?  In this blog, our career coaches offer a range of answers:

Adrienne Howell, Career Coach:

Turn off the “noise” in order to self-reflect.

I think back to when I was in high school and college, when I was truly getting to know myself.  I ask myself if I would have a shallower sense of who I was if I had algorithms that dictated what music I listened to, or if I had to compare myself to others via social media, or if my ADHD would have worsened if I had to constantly text and answer phone calls.  The answer is “yes”.  Therefore, I’ve come up with my own solution called “the back in the day method.”  Start by leaving your phone at home or turning it off once a week, and only answer texts and messages when you get home, like we did back in the day.  You can slowly add days or times.  This way, you aren’t bogged with nonsense and you truly get an understanding for your needs and who you are.

Sean McKelvie, Career Coach:

I think it is crucial to take time to self-reflect in order to understand the path we are on. Students can be elated with the satisfaction of receiving good grades, securing a position with a summer internship and beyond, or simply making new friends or relationships. On the other hand, students might be overwhelmed with their workload or frustrated with classes, lack of opportunities, or not securing a job or internship. I think always asking yourself, “what can I gain from this experience?” is a simple but direct question that can help frame our current circumstance. It is easy to answer this questions when everything is going well, but I would argue that through struggling, and sometimes failing, we are presented with opportunities to learn and grow if we take time to self-reflect.

Alex Barilec, Career Coach: 

Self-reflection is a critical skill to grow, change and adapt. It helps us to become more emotionally intelligent, a better leader and find roles that are a good personal fit so we can be highly effective. The foundation for self-reflection for me was understanding the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, particularly learning about cognitive distortions. This helped me better understand the lens through which I was seeing the world, how it might not be the whole picture or the truth, and then what to do about it. A few of my favorite books on reflection is When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Finally, when you are ready consider working with a professional therapist or coach who is trained in conversational and behavioral techniques to reflectively inquire into how it is you are being in comparison to how you desire to be. This can one of the most powerful and supportive relationships to help you change positively. Here’s a link to some helpful exercises: https://positivepsychology.com/cbt-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-techniques-worksheets/

Nyman Brooks, Career Coach:

I am offering three provocative quotes and one question each that might generate some self-reflection or self-evaluation:

“But yield who will to their separation,

My object in living is to unite

My avocation [what I do for joy] and my vocation [calling, career]

As my two eyes make one in sight.

For only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”   –Robert Frost

Q: To what degree does my calling or career align with what brings me joy? 

“Of actions some aim at what is necessary and useful, and some at what is honorable. And the preference given to one or the other class of actions must necessarily be like the preference given to one or other part of the soul and its actions over the other…”     –Aristotle

Q: Which parts of my soul am I giving to which of my actions and preferences?

“Looking back on my life since I left home, I count myself unusually fortunate that, during more than fifty years of earning a living, almost all the work I have elected to do has consisted of tasks that I would gladly have taken on even if I had had an independent income. If leisure work, as opposed to drudgery, comprises all those activities in which one would engage for reasons of intrinsic reward and without need of extrinsic compensation, then most of my paid employments have been largely leisure pursuits…. In between the extremes of subsistence work that is drudgery and leisure work for which one is paid, there lies a spectrum of occupations in which both aspects of work are found in varying degrees of admixture. My good fortune has been that I have had the opportunity to choose the occupations of my life so that they would be predominantly filled with leisure.”    –Mortimer Adler

Q: Adler uses the word “leisure” to describe activities that enlarge the soul rather than merely as “play” or “relaxation,” as the term is commonly used.  Most of us have jobs that lie somewhere between the extremes of drudgery one hand and leisure on the other. Where does my career fall on that spectrum?

Dan Moseson, Career Coach:

My take on self-reflection is a little bit different.  I typically need to get out of my head and into at least a bit of a “flow” state to reach new insights about myself and my life.  According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first constructed the concept, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”  I typically reach these states through exercise and creative expression.  Techniques like journaling and meditation have never done nearly as much for me as an intense mountain hike, a whirlwind afternoon photographing lightning, or cranking up my electric guitar for an enthusiastic audience.  As Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”  It’s an odd paradox, but I typically do my best thinking when I’m not aware of thinking.  This is how I’ve made life-changing discoveries about my need to be creative, physically active, and immersed in nature.  As a side note, I agree strongly with Alex that a good career coach and (a good therapist) can also be extremely helpful in understanding your needs, desires, goals, and skills.