Face The Mirror

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"How did I do?"

"How do you think you did....?"

“Self-actualize.” You might know the term from Psychology 101 class or various books or TV. It’s at the top level of the triangle in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He focused on happiness and the mechanics of what motivates humans to realize their own maximum potential, self-fulfillment, personal growth and peak experiences.

To self-actualize and be who you came to be, you must learn how to accurately self-assess. The only way you can continue to improve and evolve is to constantly analyze your performance. In my corporate days, we called this a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. To put it in simpler language, I call it using a clear mirror to self-assess. What happens when you’re staring directly into a mirror? Who’s the focus on? It’s on you, right?

When was the last time you used a clear mirror to self-assess? When was the last time you took off the rose-colored glasses and asked yourself what you’re doing well and where your areas of opportunity are? Calling out our own weaknesses is not for the faint of heart — it’s a task that requires vulnerability, courage, risk and confidence. Easier said than done, right? Well, you know what they say ... practice makes perfect, and the more you do something, the easier it gets.

For years, I’ve tried to teach my sons how to self-assess. Ben is my blonde 10-year-old. He’s a natural leader, but like many 10 year old boys he can be out of control with his actions. Jack is my brunette 8-year-old. He marches to the beat of his own drum, and we’re still trying to figure out if he’ll go to college or the carnival ;). I love them both for their individuality, character and authenticity. As much as I want to constantly celebrate their strengths, I keep trying to get them to understand where their opportunities are.

I don’t know about your kids, but my boys are fairly overextended in little league sports. Tennis, baseball, swimming, basketball, soccer, tae kwon do, football ... you name it, they have tried it. The youth sports schedule is often exhausting, but the good news is that every game, match or competition presents the perfect opportunity to teach my boys about self-assessment. My hope is that they learn to self-actualize and see that their possibilities are infinite.

I love baseball, and, lucky for me, my boys have decided that baseball is “their sport.” When my sons first started playing, they were just 6 years old. They’d finish a T-ball game and come running over to the sidelines with wide eyes and optimism. They’d ask me, “How do you think I did?” Instead of responding with the usual answer, “You were awesome,” I’d bounce the question back to them. “How do you think you did?” For years, they’d reply, “I think I was pretty awesome.” And I’d always respond, “You had some shining moments, but what are you excited to work on to get better?”

For years, my sons have used this clear mirror approach to recap each game. These conversations have shifted through the years. The older they became, the more freely they shared their areas of opportunity, but they also found excuses and blame as reasons behind a lack of performance. They’d say things like, “I think I did OK, considering that pitcher didn’t know where the strike zone was.” I’d recalibrate them and say, “Oh ... I’m not talking about the pitcher, I’m talking about you. How do you think you did?” They’d reply, “Well, I would have gotten that extra run if the umpire wouldn’t have missed that call at first base.” Again, I’d recalibrate and say, “Oh ... I’m not talking about the umpire. I’m talking about you. How do you think you did?” After years of this cat-and-mouse game, they’ve gotten the gist now — 100%. My 10-year-old, Ben, plays more than 30 games each summer. He no longer even asks me, “Mom, how do you think I did?” Instead, we just start talking about the game. He leads the conversation in what worked for him and what he needs to work on at practice. It’s really fulfilling to watch his confidence and skills in the game continue to rise.

When we self-assess with a clear mirror, we see where our strengths and our opportunities live. We open doors for improvement and celebrate what’s working. We can self-actualize, and we can be who we came to be. Next time you’re looking for feedback on performance, use that clear mirror to self-assess. What do you like? What do you want to stop doing? What do you need to change? Where do you need to work? Once you have the framework in place for constructive feedback, you can confidently seek outside counsel for a deeper dive into areas for improvement.

Try the clear mirror question approach with your kids after their next sporting (or other performance-based) event. And remember, it takes time to gain the confidence and vulnerability to use a clear mirror to self-assess. Hell, there are times at age 41 that I don’t want to face the mirror. But I promise — you’re worth it as the best is yet to come.

Until then, don’t forget the famous personal mirror affirmation from SNL’s Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

Tara Renze