In an environment driven by profits and stock value, taking pause to self-reflect is unlikely to be an executive’s highest priority. It is often not until a personal crisis erupts that we’re willing to pause and assess where we are personally and examine what is needed to move forward.
When I was invited to blog on LinkedIn, I took a tour of the business blogosphere to see what the experts had to say about self-reflection. I suppose it wasn’t surprising that Harvard School of Business thinks executive self-reflection is about improving performance and that it ought to be focused on corporate objectives and whether or not one is communicating a clear vision for the company. Other experts suggested so-called self-reflective questions like: “Am I meeting expectations?” Or, “What else could I be doing that no one else can do?” And my favorite, “How do others perceive my performance?”
The irony is, after years of relentlessly pursuing company goals, a leader, whether corporate exec or entrepreneur, can feel untethered from his or her authentic self, anxious and stretched thin but unable to identify the source. When this happens, there will be little encouragement to go inward, but go inward one must or a personal crisis will be the inevitable outcome.
True self-reflection is personal, regardless of our role in the world. It takes courage and discipline to pause and take stock of ourselves. However, the most meaningful self-reflection is not an exercise in evaluating, judging or tabulating our mistakes and conquests, or in gauging how we are perceived. Instead it measures something intangible yet vitally important to our personal well-being, and that is do we feel fulfilled? And if not, why not?
If we aren’t feeling fulfilled, I guarantee that self-reflection of the personal kind will uncover the gap and that it lies in what is missing at the heart level. I don’t care how driven we are to succeed materially, life is a feeling experience, and our quality of life is measured by how fulfilled we feel. If there is a gap, it will surely be defined by the feeling experience our endeavors have failed to deliver.
Fulfillment may be a luxury of the successful. Once we are no longer fighting to survive, we cannot help but crave joy, creativity and ease from our investment of energy, indeed our life force. Perhaps this is the reason statistics prove that, at a certain point now determined to be an income of $100,000 per year, more money and status do not make us any happier.
I suspect that fulfillment is elusive simply because it doesn’t tend to rank well on our priorities list when we’re engaged in the business of running a business. We tend to treat fulfillment as something that will happen to us later, when we’ve achieved a great business goal. This is pure fallacy.
Self-reflection of the personal kind is a business necessity, in my view. Without it, we will eventually become rudderless ourselves and thereby unable to provide guidance and direction to those who count on us for leadership.
Perhaps more to the point, if we fail to attend to our fulfillment while we focus on our material performance, we will burn through our time on the Earth and arrive at life’s end without much more than all that stuff we know we cannot take with us.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.