Our earliest lessons in learning how to reflect upon ourselves and the things we do often came accompanied by the words …”Go to your room and think about what you have done!”
As a child you may have been sent to your room or made to “sit in the corner” to think about what you did to get you is such a sad position, so usually you were in trouble. While in your room, feeling isolated from all human contact and alone with your thoughts you were supposed to think about what you did, feel sorry for your actions and their consequences, apologize for what you did, make amends for what you did if possible, and promise never to do it again. Or at least that’s what you parents wanted you to do.
As much as we hated being sent to our rooms it was our earliest training on learning the importance of reflection about ourselves and our actions. These early efforts by the authority figures in our lives to get us to reflect actually laid the foundation and served to teach us the value of pausing to consider, ponder, question, think and reflect all in a critical way about our issues, problems, success, failures, and plans … our lives. Unfortunately, since this learning was not taking place under pleasant circumstances. So if we participated in the process at all we did it grudgingly, but usually we feigned the response that was expected of us to get out of the circumstances we found ourselves in. This was also an early form of enlightened self interest … so that we could get back to our agenda, whatever we were doing before we were interrupted by this unreasonable demand to “think about what you have done”. Those demands placed upon us may be part of the reason so few people take the time to reflect and think about their lives, actions, and careers as adults. We don’t do it because it’s not easy, not fun, and we don’t see the benefit in doing it.
How does this relate to career development? In any part of life, but especially in career development efforts, critical reflection is an essential part of your development plan. After you draw up your plan and have begun the implementation and have worked the plan for a while you need to pause and take some time to reflect on what you are doing. You need to set aside time periodically and examine your plan, your progress in implementing it, and your overall effectiveness in making it work. The reason for this critical reflection is not only to check on your progress, to see how far you’ve got, but to also to tweak the plan and make any adjustments needed to enhance your development plan. You need to ask yourself questions like “What’s working?”, “What’s not working?”, “What do I need to do more of?”, “What do I need to do less of?”, “Do I have the resources I need to execute my plan?”, “Who do I need to network with to help further my goal?” “What are the implications if I take this action as opposed to that action?”. By asking these and other critically reflective questions you can sharpen your plan and continue to update your execution strategy. By exercising the disciple of critical reflection you can make your plans better and improve your chances for success.
In order to do this type of deep thinking and to be able to critically reflect upon your current state you need to get way from distractions of the day to day and concentrate, to focus on the task. A friend of mine refers to this as “going to the mountain top”. This simply means that you take the time to get away from the noise and distractions of your daily life so that you can concentrate on the task at hand. This may mean that you need to remove yourself physically from other people and distractions for an extended period of time so that you can be alone with your thoughts and think. If actually removing yourself for periods of time is not possible, it may mean that you purposely set aside time on a daily basis to reflect upon and examine your plans and progress, on what you have done and what you need to do. However you do it is not important. That you do it is imperative!
There is a certain discipline that is needed for this. As a child your parents brought pressure to bear in an attempt to force/ coerce/ make you think about what you had done. Now, as an adult, no one has the authority to pressure you or demand that you reflect on what you have done and how you do it. You have to demand it of yourself. And you do it because you realize it is in your own best interest to do so.