Ruminating on self-reflection

Try asking yourself how you do what you do, and why you do it that way. The answers will reveal a truer you.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

When was the last time you sat back and gave serious thought to what you do? And not just what you do, but how you do it?

I’m guessing most of us haven’t done it lately, if ever. Until recently, I certainly hadn’t. What I found staring back at me in the mirror was a version of myself — a more enlightened me, if not a better one — that I’d never fully been able to grasp before.

When I meet new people professionally at a networking event or out socially with friends, I’m often asked about what I do. My response is typically a little more detailed, but the gist of it is that I write and edit. People who don’t fancy themselves writers — which is most people — frequently respond with some degree of amazement.

My wife is a great example. She’s one of the most thoughtful, intelligent people I know, and she’s a really incredible teacher, but she’s not a writer. So any time she’s working on something important, she asks me to proofread and edit it for her. When I’m done, her usual response is, “How’d you do that?”

I’ve never been able to answer that question. Writing and editing is … just what I do. It’s as natural to me as breathing, and I don’t have to put any thought into it. I have the same amazement level for people who know all about math. I don’t get numbers, so I’m always impressed with people who do, even if to them it’s no big deal.

At the end of September, I had the opportunity to help a friend and speak to her eighth grade English classes about journalism. As the students have been working through their writing units, their teachers have been encouraging them to think and write like journalists, so they asked me to speak to the kids about how and why journalists do what they do.

I was happy to help, even though public speaking is not in my wheelhouse. I was given talking points to touch on what coincided with what the students were learning and I knew what I wanted to talk about, but the morning I was supposed to speak I realized that I didn’t actually know how to talk about it. Again, how often do we really think about how we do our jobs?

It was a quick lesson in introspection that I wasn’t expecting. A lot of times we’re asked to complete self-evaluations when annual reviews roll around, and that little bit of navel-gazing typically doesn’t extend much further than:

  • What could I have done better this year?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses? How can I improve on them?
  • Where can I take personal initiative and become a stronger employee who contributes more next year?

Those are all great questions, but they don’t require you to strip yourself down to the bare essentials and build yourself back up. That’s something we should all make a habit of doing more often.

In considering how I interview, how I write, and how I edit, I was also forced to ask myself why I do things the way I do. For example, I don’t put together outlines for articles or for my personal writing. I don’t write drafts that I go back and revise. Ever. These are all things writers should do. But I realized that I don’t because, for me, it takes the life out of the words. There’s a sort of vibrancy about writing for me that would get lost if I were to chart my course with an outline or repeatedly make revisions. Instead, I revise as I write and make course corrections as I go, never knowing quite where I’ll end up. That’s the fun of it! Consider me an explorer in an uncharted sea of ink.

So that’s this month’s PSA: Do some serious self-reflection about how you do what you do — the nuts and bolts of it — and why you do it.

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