There have been numerous topics on here and elsewhere discussing ways to make yourself look good to potential employers and how you can make a good first impression. But the one thing in all of this that has probably been overlooked just happens to be the most important: how you see yourself. It’s what will dictate how others will see you, after all. So, before you start sending out resumes and working on your networking skills, let’s first take a look in the mirror, if we dare, and discover what we see there.
What Do You Think of Yourself?
A simple question. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of yourself? Don’t think about the answer. Just say it. Your notion of what this is – and ostensibly what others think of you – hinges entirely on your answer. It’s called self-concept, and it’s your own beliefs about who you are.
“You filter the cues that you get from others through your self-concept,” explains Mark Leary, professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Though we like to say we don’t care what others think, this is 100% false. We absolutely do care. Human beings are, in the end, creatures who want and need to fit into a social universe. It is literally in our make-up. Take an anthropology course to see why (if you haven’t already). In fact, social anxiety is really just an innate response to the threat of exclusion; or more to the point, a feeling of not being accepted.
“People rely on others’ impressions to nurture their views about themselves,” says William Swann, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin.
His research shows that people with negative self-concepts often goad others to evaluate them harshly. They would rather be right than be admired.
As a young person, your job is to first craft an image of yourself that you want to project to others. You literally have the power to be anyone you want to be. That is the power of youth.
Be Self Aware
Paul Silvia, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, points to a pretty sobering experiment he conducted. He had a group of adults watch tapes of themselves giving group presentations. The result was that they all laser focused in on their faults and judged themselves way too harshly than they would have had they relied on their own impressions of the experience. This is because you evaluate yourself much more critically when you are self-aware. You are comparing yourself to the “you” you wish to become.
This is good and bad. The upside is that it furnishes a deep, rich self-concept, providing you with the ideal to strive for. The downside is that it can also be paralyzing.
“It leads you to overanalyze others’ reactions to you and misinterpret them,” warns Michael Leary, author of The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism and the Quality of Human Life.
Yes, we care about what others think of us, but we also need to remember that too much concern about that can only constrict behavior and stifle the spirit. It’s all about striking a balance.
As you make your way down the career path, you’ll face many challenges. As a recent grad, chief among them will be to distinguish yourself from your peers. When in doubt, always remember to be confident, be self aware and above all just be yourself. Because an investment in that is an investment in who you want to be, and thus, in your own future.