Self-Awareness

In A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor reports from the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where the closing words of his monologue were, “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

This is clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but there’s more than a little true to it. We generally have unrealistic assessments of ourselves.

As Scientific American notes, 93% of people think they’re better than average drivers. And, 94% of college professions think they do above average work. Obviously basic math makes both impossible to be true.

This is called unwarranted self-enhancement, which is a fancy way of saying we think we’re better than we really are. Ironically, we’re also blind to the fact that we do this; most people think they provide more accurate self-assessments than others!

Understanding who you really are – your strength, weaknesses, preferences, and irritants – is essential to self-mastery and leadership. So, how do you close this gap?

One way is through feedback. Though, people who will give you a realistic, unvarnished assessment are rare – especially when that assessment is at odds with our own self-view.

Another way is through diagnostic tests. While the internet is rife with junk personality tests (E.g., Answer these five questions to see which Scooby Doo character you are!), there are a few that provide helpful insight.

One is called the Big Five test and FiveThirtyEight provides a free version of the test that’s insightful.

The test requires answering a handful of questions and provides your propensity towards five different character traits:

  1. Openness to Experience
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Negative Emotionality
  5. Extroversion

Each top trait is broken down into a few sub-traits. For example, here’s my Extroversion score broken out into it’s sub-components and how that compares to the national average.


For years, I’ve always thought of myself as very introverted. Which, not surprisingly, the test validated. I’m not very social or outgoing. But, the nuance of the other sub-traits was new and helpful for me to see. It gave me a different lens to think about the types of work I like to take on the situations where I’m likely to thrive.

Ultimately, the test is just a starting point. The hard work is connecting the dots between the test results and (a) more accurate real-life self-assessment of how it shows up your behavior, and (b) how to leverage it making better decisions about the type of work you take on and the places where you engage.

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