The young Prince knocked the poisoned arrow on his bow, pulled back the heavy string and, for a brief moment, held his breath while aiming before shooting it towards his brother’s killer. The arrow Paris released entered the only vulnerable part of his body, the heel, and led to death of the swift-footed, godlike warrior, Achilles. Although Homer, the legendary Greek poet, doesn’t tell us about how Achilles died in Iliad, one of my all-time favorite books, later ancient Greek myths describe the scene similar to the above.
Achilles’ heel was his only weak spot because that’s where his mother, Thetis, held him while dipping his body into the river Styx to make him immortal. Had he known this about himself, would Achilles have put on special armor, to shield his only weak spot, Achilles heel? If we take off from the city of Troy, the modern day Truva in Turkey, fly due southwest, across the beautiful and deep blue Aegean Sea, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, there stands The Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is believed to have inscribed “Know Thyself” at its forecourt.
About 100 miles south east of Delphi, in the city of Athens, a wise man once said “I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things”.
Now, fast forward about sixteen centuries, and from Athens back to Anatolia, but this time a little more central, the Turkish Sufi mystic Yunus Emre calls, “Knowledge means to know yourself.”
While I am nowhere near able to talk about the depth and the true meanings of the above “Know Yourself” quotes from those great minds and thinkers, a similar one, even if not as deep; Self-Awareness is an important trait to be successful and happy at work.
If we know our strengths, we can capitalize on them more, which has always seemed very efficient to me as an engineer. If I am very strong in my math skills, I can be quite successful in coding or I can take on the budget management task for my team. If I am naturally strong in people skills, I can be very successful working in the service industry, or I can take the lead on some key tasks for my team that require high level of collaboration across multiple groups.
If we also enjoy working in the areas we have strengths, which is not always the case, it would even bring happiness. For example, I enjoy strategic thinking and planning and it is one of my strengths. I am privileged to have the opportunity to employ this strength in my current role. It feels good and fulfilling every time I practice it and deliver results using those skills.
Knowing our weaknesses (I do not call them opportunities deliberately!) very well, on the other hand, also helps us manage them as potential blind spots so that they won’t trip us up. For example, one of my weaknesses is that I can be impulsive at times. Instead of trying to change that weakness, the best and most efficient thing that I can do about it is to learn how to manage it.
Learn to manage your weaknesses to the extent that they don’t trip us up and go full throttle on maximizing the use of our natural strengths.
“Awareness is all about restoring your freedom to choose what you want instead of what your past imposes on you.” – Deepak Chopra
2. Self-Awareness Helps Us Understand Others Better
When we recognize and embrace our strengths and weaknesses, we are more authentic and genuine, which promotes recognizing and embracing others’ strengths and weaknesses as well. This is essential in pulling together winning teams with happy individuals. I like the saying “a team is greater than the sum of its parts.” I believe this is only true if the team has individuals with diverse skill sets and these differences are embraced, not criticized!
I am proud to be part of a team where we never say things like “Paris is great at shooting arrows, why am I not?” Instead we say, “I will ask for Paris’ help because I need a good archer and I am not” and Paris, in return, would say something like, “I need a swift-footer warrior here but I am an archer, let me ask Achilles to help me with this one.“
3. How to Enhance Self-Awareness
We can recognize and appreciate our strengths and weaknesses better by objectively observing ourselves and by continuously getting feedback. There are numerous personality and skills tests out there that we can leverage as well as asking trusted friends and co-workers for continuous feedback through formal and informal processes. It just requires an open-minded approach and a growth mindset.
Self-Awareness is a much broader and deeper concept and here we covered the knowing our strengths and weaknesses well piece of it. Whoever we are, with our strengths and weaknesses, we are all unique only when we are our authentic selves, which is what makes each and every one of us beautiful and valuable.
“Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Priam’s son, Prince Paris knew his strength and weakness well and never took Achilles up on the battlefield one on one, where he would have no chance to win. Instead, he employed his strength of being a good archer. Achilles, my hero, despite being a godlike warrior, slipped on his only weak spot, his heel. Had he had a special armor to shield his weakness, the rest of the story might have been a different one. Will you go full throttle on your archery skills and shield your Achilles’ heel?