The first step is admitting a problem exists. – Various addict help groups

Knowing is half the battle. – G. I. Joe

The basis behind these two cliched quotes is self-awareness. One of the characteristics I am most proud of in myself is self-awareness, the ability to analyze my thoughts and emotions and make decisions based on the analysis. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am only cold and calculating. I act upon emotion, but likely only after I’ve rejected logical reasoning after conscious thought. It’s a characteristic that I believe aids in my learning potential, analyzing myself, my strengths and weaknesses and addressing them as I see fit. What sets humans apart from the rest of the life present on this planet? It’s supposed to be awareness of existence, conscious thought, feeling of meaning in life, yet so often it seems like we exist on a subconscious level, going through our days without so much as a thought on anything but the exact present moment.

Shortly, I’ll have completed this university phase of my life and moved on to something new. I started thinking about how I’ve changed over the past 5 years. It’s easy to see the improvement in my writing skills, for example, by looking at the content here from the last year of high school. What else have I been becoming aware of?

Behaviour – I’ve made a conscious effort to analyze my day-to-day behaviour. This isn’t Prince Edward Island anymore and the people I find myself around are very different from the friends I had back there. I’ve worked on my stubbornness, definitely making myself more amenable to friendly debate without feeling defensive or insulted. I’ve become much more capable of admitting mistakes, apologizing when I am in the wrong. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not an out for doing a ton of things wrong; it’s just knowing that a genuine apology goes a long way to smoothing over differences. I’m okay with getting knocked down a notch or two. Learning to admit when I’m wrong has been a difficult thing to do, but I think it has made me a better person.

I’ve also become quite comfortable with disagreement. There was a time when I needed to convince everyone of my views. But I’ve long since realized that the point of opinions is that everyone should have one. Furthermore, it’s extremely rare that there exist an absolute right or wrong view.

Programming – I’ve done a lot of web development, both as a personal hobby and on the job at Shortcovers (now Kobo). It has a highly visual design component, which I’ve been drawn to. At the same time, my development skills on other fronts is not up to the same level of comfort as web development. While a program manager at Microsoft will rarely if ever write production code, being able to communicate every day with the developers on the same level has fantastic results. I’ve begun some side programming projects in the meantime to improve those skills, which I hope will help me on the job.

Inter-personal relationships – This is one area I still need a hefty amount of work on. During my 5 years here at the University of Waterloo, I’ve left relationships by the wayside, instead concentrating on study during school semesters and work during co-op semesters. This is perhaps my greatest regret over my university career, but I’m making strides to change this focus as I end this final semester and move off to the Pacific Northwest later this year. Perhaps most telling was the recent shock I had, when a friend asked, “Am I talking to Waterloo Charlie or PEI Charlie?” There has been a huge change since I came to Waterloo from Prince Edward Island. I knew it in the back of my mind, but that sentence was the most crystallized representation of that change.

Decision-making – I make it no secret that I don’t see myself as a worker drone for the rest of my life. I want to be in management, a position of influence. A key differentiator here is the power to make decisions. That distinction is only given to those who have a track record of making good ones. One area I haven’t always made the best decision in is the purchase of tech gadgets. Yeah, I’m a curious person, and always wanting the latest digicam, cellphone, computer, and whatnot. However, making sound financial decisions based on fact and numbers will be necessary in my desired profession. Making budgets and sticking to them is a life skill worth having. I’ve been driven by emotional desire for the latest gadget that has sometimes clouded my impartial judgment. Recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to hold myself back from these types of purchases. Another example is my car decision for work. My initial desire was for a nice car, but after some more thought, that money is probably better saved for now. A twenty-something year-old hardly needs a status symbol, not to mention it might be provocative for others less fortunate.

Getting things done – This might have something to do with the experiences and learnings from my PM internship at Microsoft. I’ve learned how to keep meetings on track, focusing on agenda points, curtailing superfluous discussion and debates that go nowhere very slowly, and generally maintaining a high degree of efficiency. It’s often easy to get sidetracked with a lot of smart people all actively participating in a debate. Again, like I mentioned a few points above, everyone has an opinion, but only one decision can be made, and it’s often a compromise. Arguments get heated and sight of the end goal is sometimes lost or forgotten. How many times have you been in an argument and completely forgot what prompted it or that the goal was to reach an agreement? Argument for the sake of argument is a bit of a pet peeve now. I’m quite conscious of the actions that initiate discussions, quickly pulling people back to the topic at hand if things drift for too long. Step back, look at the big picture, and remind everyone they’re working towards a common goal.

Scary movies – Yes, I despise scary movies or even thrillers. I’ve indirectly connected this dislike with my discomfort with uncertainty (that, or I’m just a wuss). However, a big part of my future will be to effectively manage that uncertainty and ambiguity. So, I’ve been easing myself into the genre, with the hope of calming my nerves a bit in the face of horror.

I’ve identified several of my own characteristics that I’ve worked on throughout the years, and the above are ones I’m currently tackling. I think my self-awareness has been a most useful trait, helping me identify and work on issues, even when it’s not exactly pleasant to think of one’s own deficiencies. But that is an important part of life and the goal of continual self-improvement.


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