Six years ago as part of a training and development exercise in my consulting job, I got to collect anonymous feedback from colleagues and clients on my strengths (yeah, always happy to hear about those!) and my “areas of improvement” (because who wants to call them weaknesses…). In the feedback and in a lot of performance reviews before and after that, I was told to “build an industry spike” - the notion of needing to become an expert in one particular industry or topic to be able to be credible and effective in my job and role.
And maybe yes, to stay successful in the role of a management consultant, just “being good with people” and a somewhat smart generalist isn’t enough.
So, I did become more knowledgeable about one particular industry and focused on banking. Through repeatedly being staffed on banking projects, you do inevitably become somewhat knowledgeable about that industry. Yeah - made it - did what I was supposed to!
I was not proud, did not feel I found “my niche”, not even sure I wanted to get sucked deeper into that world.
Did it feel fulfilling? Did it give me a sense of accomplishment? Did it feel like something I had longed for? No, not really. Actually, nothing of the above. I was not proud, did not feel I found “my niche”, not even sure I wanted to get sucked deeper into that world.
I had chosen to deepen my industry knowledge, because I felt it is something I had to do to be successful - but was that my definition of success?
I had chosen to go into banking, because that was a path that was available at the time - but was that the industry that I was really interested in?
I had chosen to work on that “area of improvement”, because I was looking for validation from my peers - but was that really in line with what I wanted in my life?
The answer to all these questions is obviously ‘NO’ and in hindsight that is easy to see.
Only last year did I come across a framework that so beautifully put up a mirror for me to see why all that made total sense to me back then, and why now it feels somewhat odd that I made those choices.
The question “who-I-am” is defined in relation to our surroundings, the social group we belong to, our peers
Robert Kegan's Theory of Adult Development so beautifully describes the phase I was in at that time.
Kegan identified five human development stages. Stage 3 that starts post-adolescence (and can actually last until the end of life) is called “the socialized mind”. The socialized mind has an outside-in perspective. The question “who-I-am” is defined in relation to our surroundings, the social group we belong to, our peers (yes, this is all about comparing yourself to others, seeing similarities and differences, getting a sense of yourself through the differentiation to others). Statements like “I am my relationships” might sound totally normal and true to us in that phase.
What a successful life looks like for us is therefore defined by external beliefs, expectations and conventional “life-concepts”. It is at the end a quite reactive mode - we react to external inputs, change behaviors to get external validation fuelled by the fundamental fear of not fitting in.
I truly believe there is value in going through this third stage. It is how we find direction, guidance and even a feeling of belonging especially in a time where our personality is still shaping in so many ways.
But eventually, if we stay in stage 3 we might - like I did - get a feeling of disconnection. A disconnect between something inside us and the external voices telling us what “good” has to look like. For me it was after a bachelor and master degree in business, eight years in management consulting and becoming a mum, that I couldn’t shake off that feeling that I was somewhat not being true to myself.
We understand that we are a person, with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are independent from the standards and expectations of our environment.
That is the point where we hopefully (and some hopefully earlier than me) can move to the forth development stage after Kegan - the “self-authoring” mind. And as this name so beautifully allures to - this is the stage where we create our own beliefs and narrative about what “good” looks like, what success means for us!
It is the inside-out perspective, where “who-I-am” is defined by our “true-self”. To tap into our “true-self” we have to become aware of our values, of our inherent strength. We get to know our true north / our purpose and can make decisions based on that and therefore discover what it means to stay true to ourselves. We understand that we are a person, with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are independent from the standards and expectations of our environment.
As you can imagine this awareness does not appear overnight. There is some work to be done to work our way through learned narratives, external expectations, our own inner critics, to shift our mindset and sit with these questions of “self”.
It is deliberating, it gives meaning and fulfillment to get clarity, to move from the socialized to the self-authoring mind
For me it was a huge step to go from a secure, high-paying job into the unknown and take the time to reflect and create that new awareness. It was a (time) investment I consciously made. It was not just about ruminating here and there about my values. I actually “worked” through books, exercises, wrote down reflections, journelled and also got a coach to guide me through this phase.
And yes, by now I do have a purpose spelled out that I make the focus of my life; I know my values and adhere to them as best as I can with the decisions I make; I feel I am more authentic, more “myself” in the interactions I have and the relationships I build.
I feel it is deliberating, it gives meaning and fulfillment to get clarity on these questions, to move from the socialized to the self-authoring mind - knowing that we are always on a journey. That is why, when Arjanna and I started creating our program Thrive! we had exactly this transformation in mind. We want to create a space for people to access and work on their self-authoring mind to take the right decisions and actions from there to live a more fulfilled life, in line with their “true-self”.
Are you ready to enter the next stage?
If you want to explore your self-authoring mind, find your unique purpose, understand your inherent strength and values and overcome external voices and your inner critic, do check out our 3-month group program Thrive! here.