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  • Dr. Matt Davis

The Trouble with Self-Awareness--or "How did he know that?"


My boss wants to see me in his office--that doesn’t sound good. The weird part is that we get along pretty well, and he has served as a kind of mentor to me. But the way he told me this time didn’t feel right. I was nervous.

The conversation we had in his office hit me like a ton of bricks. He was nice enough about it, but he told me things about me that I didn’t even realize about myself until that moment. It was hard to know how to respond because I felt so floored and caught off guard. I did what I could to defend my recent decisions, but the rest of the day I was walking around in a daze.

I always thought that the way I treated my employees was the nice way. I was the boss that everyone liked. Sure, it created more work for me at times, when someone didn’t quite finish the project they were supposed to. But it was totally worth it because I knew my employees liked that they were being treated well. I felt like I was making a real difference in their lives. Not like those other callous managers who were short with and distant from their teams.

But now my boss is telling me that I let too many things slide that end up costing the company, and that he thinks I do it because I’m a “people-pleaser.” People-pleaser? I mean, who doesn’t enjoy getting along with their co-workers? And why would I not treat my employees with the respect they deserve? Some of them come from tough backgrounds and need a break every once in a while. Still, I couldn’t shake the fact that my boss had put his finger on something important that reverbated deep within me.

On the way home I called my best friend; we’ve known each other since college. If anyone knows me, it’s this guy, and he would help me make sense of what was happening. I also knew my wife and I would be up late that night, after putting the kids to bed, with two large glasses of wine, talking it through. Thank God she’s so supportive of me. The more I turned things over in my mind and talked things out with my confidantes, the more I realized that as tough as I knew I could be, I did have a hard time putting my foot down sometimes. It’s not that I couldn’t write someone up, or even fire someone, it’s just that I preferred not to sometimes. I felt like some kind of black hole awaited me, like I wasn’t sure what would happen if I had to do that to someone that I stuck my neck out for to hire. For some reason that feeling reminded me of growing up, and how I always had to help my parents with whatever they needed, or else...I don’t know. It’s that big black hole again.

I talked to my boss the next week. He’s a good guy, and I know he just wants what’s best for me. He told me he can see my potential. And he offered to help me for a while when it comes to making better judgment calls about how to demand better performance from my team. I know I’ll get better at it, but it still doesn’t feel good. And now I can’t stop thinking about how I got to be this way. My parents are good people-but why did they lean on me so much when I was young? Why won’t these thoughts just leave me alone...

Sometimes life brings things up you’d rather not remember. And sometimes those memories come with distressing thoughts and feelings. We can’t control if or when these things happen; all we can do is deal with them the best we know how. Contact me to consult about any distressing symptoms you may have, how to navigate relationships amidst a mental shake-up, and to learn how to skillfully change patterns that aren’t working out the best for you anymore.

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