The music played softly in the background as my friend David drove us through the backroads of Georgia. It was gorgeous out- the heat had finally subsided, the stars weren’t spoiled by clouds or smog, almost no other cars were on the road. We relived the wedding- the beautiful bride, the hilarious garter-turned-strip-tease surprise from the groom, the serenity of the sunset over the handwritten vows.
I met the bride during college- she spent a year working for a company in Clemson while I finished my last year of school. I flew back for the wedding and didn’t know anyone there but her and the groom. David, my date, knew two less people than I did (AKA noone!).
As David and I recapped the wedding he mentioned how it felt to not know anyone there. I think I felt similarly when I went on a blind date to a wedding a couple years ago (yes, that actually happened).
My first response was to ask him, “Well, what are your takeaways? What did you learn from feeling that way?”
After rolling his eyes at such a ‘typical Ali’ question, we talked through possible takeaways.
It’s a silly example to exercise a serious point:
Consciously digging into situations is the shortcut to personal growth.
Here’s a simple question to ask yourself that can help you get started: “What can I learn from this?”
And here are 3 quick reasons you should adopt this practice:
- It develops wisdom. While formerly believed that adult brains were hardwired to stay static, there has been loads of research done over the last several years proving neuroplasticity of the brain (Neuro= brain cells / Plastic= mold, shape, change). It’s been proven that the brain can continue to change and that we can even play a part in that happening. One of the quickest ways to grow in wisdom is to press into moments of vulnerability or feeling uncomfortable and ask “What can I learn about myself from this?”
- It brings value to uncomfortable or painful situations. When I can walk away from a broken friendship or a mistake or a Halloween party that flopped, asking “What can I learn from this?” shifts the conversation from one about self-worth to one about self-development. “What can I learn from this?” evolves into “What can I learn about myself from this? Why did I respond that way? Did I like that response? If not, how can I change the response next time?”
- It makes you better. Period. If you’re like me, then you probably agree that it’s important to continue growing. There are a few parts of my life I’m really focused on right now: my professional development and my communication skills. Here are some examples of questions I might ask myself:
- Post professional meeting: “What can I learn from that? Did I communicate clearly? Did my customer understand the value? Why was I scared to ask for _____? What preconceived notions did I bring in with me and why?”
- Post tough conversation: “What can I learn from that? Did I ask the questions I wanted to ask? Did I set an example by being vulnerable and authentic? Was there anything I wanted to say but didn’t? Why didn’t I? What was I scared of?”
After that conversation with David, we talked about self-awareness. How to grow in it, why it’s valuable, how it impacts work and relationships. Intentionally asking yourself “what can I learn from this?” is one of the quickest ways to grow in self-awareness and take you one step close to being the best version of yourself.
When’s the last time you felt uncomfortable or awkward or hurt? What can you learn about yourself from it? What would you do differently next time?