Why self-knowledge is the Northern Star for a fulfilling professional career

Young woman looks at the mirror and sees her happy reflection. Self-acceptance and confidence concept.

Article Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos is Senior Vice President of Emerging Tech Insights, KnowBe4

A simple search for career advice on the internet will bring back countless articles about how to navigate the workplace, best ways to network within the industry, insights to the latest preferred job skills, tips to negotiate a salary, write a resume, how to dress for success and advice on how to write an engaging cover letter that will land an interview.

But few talk about stepping away from the trends of skills, resume designs and the top job titles. Even fewer encourage their readers to discover their sense of self and develop a curiosity of what are the sparks that set their soul on fire. Most people will dedicate the majority of their life to the labor market, offering their skills and time to various workplaces. It is a tremendous disjustice to dedicate so much precious time of our life to one activity without spending time pursuing self-knowledge and self awareness. Here are some personal thoughts on what you need to know about self-knowledge and how it can be one of the most rewarding pursuits for your professional life.

The journey of self-knowledge does not have a start or an end-date. Instead, it is a continuous practice of experiencing, learning and self reflection throughout our lives. We are dynamic and evolving human beings who have evolving sets of interests and life events. Knowing more about what interests us, what makes us tick and why, is a way to get closer to our authentic selves. When we bring our authentic selves to work with our personal interests it is an opportunity to be more engaged with the work we do and grow – not just professionally, but personally – and work with meaningful intent.

In Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, she talks about defining our personal version of what success looks like and seeking to thrive in all facets of our lives instead of just getting by. She says that what helped her on her journey was giving herself permission to do the things she wanted and be the person she wanted to be. This seemingly simple act of giving ourselves permission to pursue what interests us, to allow ourselves to embrace our passions and present ourselves authentically in our environments has the power to transform our careers. However, with the advances in technology and the resulting social and workplace changes, the word “career” may perhaps already be outdated. Future of work expert, Heather McGowan explains in her book The Adaptation Advantage, that in this 4th Industrial Revolution we have to “learn to learn” and stay agile because jobs and industries are experiencing rapid change. This gives us all the more reason to spend time pursuing the self awareness needed to have a strong sense of self and personal identity that will be needed to navigate the many changes ahead. With this in mind, perhaps the best way to frame career advice is for the post-modern career which is not a career ladder but a jungle gym where I encourage everyone to give themselves permission to strive for meaningful employment within organizational cultures of shared values and kind teammates.

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My personal experience with this has been to run towards what has spoken to my heart. I was in college when 9/11 happened and I wasn’t able to focus on any other research paper other than that relating to the pressing matters of national security. It led me to complete my bachelor’s in international relations, my masters in conflict resolution and write a doctoral disstertation on counter terrorism policy. Since then my professional journey across national security entities has been an answer to the calling of the topics of interest that chased me and drew me to the people who shared my interest and passion in these topics such as counter terrorism, cyber warfare, autonomous weapons, emerging technologies and special operations. I also gave myself permission to pursue more of my interests and be a national security professional who lived across three continents and several countries countries, studied six languages, pursued the arts making art about technology, created a storytelling fashion label to tell stories relating to women’s issues and national security, became passionate about human performance and had an insatiable curiosity about other cultures, urban design and craftsmanship.

But my story is just getting started and I have many decades ahead of lifelong learning and growing where I intend to continue to pursue self knowledge, reflect on where I am in my life and what interests I want to pursue the most. This will continue to translate to what organizations I want to work with and share my experience and expertise with for shared common goals. Today I am working with supportive international colleagues at KnowBe4 in our shared belief that cybersecurity awareness education can reduce the success of cyber attacks  – one of the key national security threats today. The organizational culture also supports and advocates for climate related initiatives which is an interest I have been reading more on over the past couple years. It is an interest which I have also woven into the supply chain of my fashion label’s products making sure that it is United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aligned. Blending and merging all my interests and values has led me to live my most authentic self which is why I advocate for making sure that our professional lives reflect the person we are and the person we are on the journey to becoming.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights talks about the pursuit of one’s full personality, a concept that I have become drawn towards ever since I learned about it. I personally know that I have not explored my full personality, but I know that the key to unlocking it is the continuous cultivation of self-knowledge. Which brings me to my 21st century jungle gym 4th Industrial Revolution career advice message – get to know yourself and don’t stop pursuing your interests, for they are your northern star.