Eighty percent of dentist-entrepreneurs I encounter — and their advisors — believe they are self-aware. However, a recent study of professionals demonstrated the percentage was far less — only 20% of professionals were truly self-aware. Their misunderstanding? They’ve conflated self-consciousness with self-awareness.

Self-consciousness is feeling an undue awareness of yourself, your appearance, or your actions. It is acute alertness of what you feel or think people perceive about you — usually interpreted as critical, rejecting, or demeaning. These feelings and interpretations are not related to the differentiated “self,” but are simply an expression of your identity.

In this context, identity is defined as who one thinks they are. Identity has various components: familial, psychological, and emotional. But when closely examined, identity is something that the person has made up about themselves and believes to be true. The identity goes unexamined, and simply “is.”

Self-consciousness is a direct expression of the identity. Most of the thoughts that constitute your identity are about yourself; evaluating, judging, demeaning, highly self-critical. That’s why you care what others think about you. That’s why your internal voice evaluates and then assumes what others are seeing about you. That’s why you adjust your voice to be part of the group. That’s why you behave the way you do with others. Self-consciousness is not really consciousness at all. Self-consciousness is the “‘master,” and you are subservient.

Self-consciousness is water to the fish, air to the bird, and identity to human beings. When one becomes self-aware, they realize the identity is something they have, not something they are.

Let’s take the “Seeking Wisdom Self-Awareness Survey.” The scale is 1 to 10; 1 is seldom, and 10 is constantly.


1 – Seldom 10 – Always

  1. I stop myself from getting enmeshed in other people’s problems or emotional state.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I do not operate with concern for what others think about me.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I allow myself to express myself fully. (Feelings, emotions, thoughts).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. Others do not easily sway me.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I am aware when I operate out of righteousness (being right).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I know when my identity is “running the show.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I can recognize my thoughts before I speak.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


  1. I am clear of a person’s emotional state when they talk to me.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Caution: Having delivered this to many people, followed by a one-on-one interview, when people scored extremely high, it always turned out to be a false positive. Self-aware people know they are always striving to understand themselves more deeply and willing to reveal their weaknesses. They know they are imperfect. They understand this is a mountain with no top. If you rated yourself over a 7, that was your identity speaking.


Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. In my experience, it is an arduous and sometimes painful process to become self-aware. It takes time. It takes engaging in uncomfortable and revealing questions. It takes real courage. It takes a commitment to go deep into uncovering oneself. The identity is a powerful adversary. In many ways, the identity is your “winning formula,” or how you get by in life. It commands and oversees your actions and your relationships.

In my leadership development work, what I find is most leadership problems are the result of low self-awareness. Confirmation of this observation can be found in the work of Jim Collins, Stephen Covey, Jerry Porras, Patrick Lencioni, and Brene Brown. As John Maxwell says, “As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person I should try to change is me.”

You cannot change what you are not aware of, and once you are aware, you cannot help but change. And when you become self-aware, a paradox occurs. When you are self-aware, you accept yourself for who you are and who you are not. And the moment you accept yourself as you are and are not, then you can change who you are.

Being self-aware is not about identifying all your faults, but about understanding your motivators, your impact, what you do well, and where you struggle. Ultimately, self-awareness is the gateway to personal power, satisfaction, healthy relationships, and success. And the more self-aware you are, the less self-conscious you will be.

Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is a strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu

Note: “The Wisdom Self-Awareness Survey” is a product of Seeking Wisdom LLC.

— Marc

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