Self-Evaluation for Personal & Professional Development
Evaluation: The First Step to Success
To reach the end of the journey, we must start where we are. But if we are lost, we cannot move in the right direction.
The first step in any journey is self-evaluation: Where am I? Where do I want to go?
And throughout the journey, we map our progress: Where am I now? What is my next step?
All of this is self-evaluation. And self-evaluation is not done alone: In creating our sense of where we are, we include objective evaluations and the opinions of others.
Why Self-Evaluation Matters
Whether we want to succeed professionally, or we want to improve in some area of our personal lives - relationships, health, spirit, or creativity, for instance - all improvement starts where we are and takes us where we want to be.
But where are we?
Knowing where we are is the result of self-evaluation. And if we don't know where we are, we are lost. No matter where you want to go, you must begin where you are. And when we don't know where we are, we must begin by finding out. Self-evaluation is the process of finding out where we are. It is no different than a car trip. If we know where we are and where we're going, we roll along in the right direction. But if we don't know where we are, we're lost, and we can't go the right way. We have to determine our current location before we can be sure we're going in the right direction. This is self-evaluation.
The Gift of Self-Awareness
Human beings are endowed with a unique gift of self-awareness. For instance, when a cat sees himself in a mirror, he thinks he's seeing another cat. (Okay, dolphins and chimps recognize their image in a mirror. They have the beginning of self-awareness. But human self-awareness is much more than that.)
To put it simply, we can talk about ourselves and think about ourselves. We can decide who we are now, and who we want to be. We can evaluate our abilities, and decide what to improve. Self-awareness make self-evaluation possible.
And self-evaluation makes personal growth and professional success possible.
But there are many issues to address so we can learn to do it well.
What do you do when you get lost?
People react differently when they realize they are lost. What do you do?
Good Self-Evaluation is Rare and Worthwhile
There are many painful traps in self-evaluation. Wanting to avoid that pain, most of us avoid self-evaluation. Or we take a look at ourselves once, then run away into denial. So I want to thank Chitrangada Sharan for asking the question that inspired this article.
Effective self-evaluation is not easy. In fact, most people don't do it well. After all, is there a course in high school called "Self-evaluation 101"? There should be! We become capable of self-evaluation at age 8, but we get no guidance or training in this crucial life skill. It's not surprising that most people do it badly, or avoid it altogether. Bad self-evaluation is both painful and useless.
Bad food makes us throw up. Bad food is painful and useless, too. But that's not a reason to stop eating. When it comes to self-evaluation, most of us are like a person who has only had bad food for our entire lives. We may despair of ever having good food. But once we know good food is there, we want it.
Once we know that effective, painless self-evaluation is possible, we want it. It becomes as important in our lives as bread and meat.
I've included self-evaluation into my life for over 40 years, and helped many of my clients evaluate themselves personally and professionally. Let me assure you: It's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it's very rewarding!
So let's learn how to cook up a tasty, nourishing self-evaluation!
First, we will look at the fundamental issues of self-evaluation. Then I will share the steps of performing a simple self-evaluation. You'll be good to go!
Fundamental Issues of Self-Evaluation
Before we look at how we do a self-evaluation, we can address some fundamental issues that make it difficult. That way, we can do it right from the beginning, and avoid a lot of pain and frustration. Here are the five issues:
- Subjective vs. Objective Evaluation
- Opinion: Our Own, and Others'
- Judgment and Fear as Barriers to Self-Evaluation
- Bias: Do we really want, and get, the truth?
- Clarity: What are we evaluating?
All of these challenges, and their solutions, are explored more fully in my companion article: Professional Development: What Makes Self-Evaluation So Hard?
Subjective vs. objective evaluation
Some skills, such as math, can be evaluated objectively by testing. Other skills, such as being an effective team player, are subjective. One person on your team may think you're great, while another finds you difficult to deal with. As we evaluate ourselves, it is very important to know whether the quality we are evaluating can be measured objectively, or whether we have to use people's opinions, that is, subjective measures.
Opinions: Our own, and others
When the issue we are evaluating is subjective, who's opinion matters: our own, or another person's? Sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both: We must evaluate the situation and figure that out.
When the other person has power, such as a boss who controls whether you get a promotion, then that boss's opinion is what matters. When the goal is purely personal then only our own opinion matters. An example: What is the most fun thing for me to do on my day off? When we want things to work for everyone, then everyone's opinion matters. For example, being a good team player means having everyone on the team see you as helpful. But it also means getting your own work done and not feeling like a doormat.
Judgement and Fear as Barriers to Self-Evaluation
Judgement and fear are the greatest barriers to healthy, accurate, useful self-evaluation.
Several people answering Chitrangada Sharan's question pointed out this difficulty in self-evaluation. IDONO said, "be careful what you ask for. You may not like what you get." V. Van Ness says that self-evaluation requires "brutal honesty."
The solution is to remember that we are evaluating ourselves to improve and succeed, not to beat ourselves up. The desire to succeed arises from wanting what is good for ourselves and those we love. And desiring the good is the definition of love. So loving self-awareness is the cure for self-judgment and fear. Looking at ourselves with love, we can honestly see our limitations and choose to improve.
Adoration Sure Feels Good . . .
Bias: Do we really want, and get, the truth?
Bias is like the wind, when we're trying to throw a Frisbee. It's a steady force that will push us off course unless we do something about it. If we know the bias is here, then we can adjust for it. Bias affects our own opinion of ourselves, and the opinions others have towards us, as well. We need to be clear about both.
Bias in our self-evaluation comes in two forms:
- High self-image is where we think we're better than we are.
- Low self-image is where we think we're not as good as we really are.
In self-evaluation, our goal is to create an accurate self-image. Knowing our actual strengths and weaknesses without bias, we can decide what to do.
There are four types of bias we face when we look at the opinions that others have towards us:
- They put us on a pedestal when they think highly of us and are not willing to see our weaknesses.
- They are being nice when they see our weaknesses but won't tell us. That may be great in a friend, but it gets in the way of an honest self-evaluation.
- Some people run everybody down and are always critical. It's good to avoid people like that when you do a self-evaluation - and maybe the rest of the time, too!
- Some people are prejudiced: They may give accurate opinions to others, but be harshly unfair with you. Watch out for this!
Seeing With Clarity
Clarity: What are we evaluating?
An evaluation can be very small and take just a few minutes, or it can be very large and take six months. It all depends on what we are evaluating.
So it is very important to define the scope, or topic, of the evaluation. It is also very important to define our terms clearly. If I ask, "Am I good at baking bread?", I need to know if I'm talking about yeast-raised bread or quick bread. The two are very different, and one can be good at one and not good at the other.
Without a clear scope for the evaluation and clear terms, evaluations very easily get lost in confusion and become useless.
Are you ready for a simple self-evaluation?
All five of the issues we just discussed can come up in a simple self-evaluation about a small issue. All of them will come up if we are doing a major self-evaluation. For example, if we are evaluating ourselves spiritually, or trying to decide our life purpose, or working to become more creative, all of these issues will arise. So: What are you ready for?
- If you are concerned with the issues raised above, and want to understand them more deeply and learn now to deal with them, then you're ready to read Professional Development: What Makes Self-Evaluation So Hard?
- If you feel on top of those issues, and want to do a major evaluation of your spirit, your life purpose, or your creativity, then read Self-Evaluation in Personal Development: 1st Step to Life Purpose.
- If you feel you understand the issues that have been raised so far, and want to do a simple self-evaluation on a single professional or personal issue, just keep reading this article.
- If you want to include a simple evaluation from other people, such as your customers, your audience, your team, or your boss, then read Easy Employee Evaluation Tools for Professional Development.
Sometimes, we need a self-evaluation that is quite simple, straightforward, and practical. Even here, we see four different cases:
- Where there is an objective measure that matters above all else
- Where our own opinion matters most
- Where the opinion of one person, or one specific group of people, matters most
- Where the opinion of some unspecified person or people matters most
Let's look at each in turn.
Where an objective measure matters most
There are many situations where an objective measure matters most. If we want a professional certification, such as the Project Management Professional, then there are specific criteria, including a certain grade on a certain test. As we study, we pre-test ourselves to make sure we have higher than a passing grade with a margin for error.
Goals in sports - whether personal or competitive - are similar. We can define the objective measure that will top our personal best, or that will break a current record. If we are in active competition, we can add to that an estimate of what our best competitors are likely to do.
If there is an objective measure, then let's let ourselves know how we measure up now. Then we create an action plan to meet - or exceed - our goal.
Where our own opinion matters most
We do some things for pure self-fulfillment. For example, I've been ill for several years, and almost lost my leg. Now, I can walk well and I'm enjoying biking again. I took photos of a marathon, and it got me inspired. I might try to do a 5k walk in a year or two. If I do, I won't be competing or trying to break a record. Being on the walk will be enough, and finishing it will be great. I might try for a certain time, or I might not. But if someone says, "Sid, do your best," and someone else says, "Take it easy," I'll ignore both of them. Their opinions don't matter on this one. I'll do what works for me and celebrate my own life by doing it.
Excellence: Demand More of Yourself . . .
Demand more of yourself than others will demand of you. But be gentle: Do not beat up on yourself.
If that seems impossible, then you don't know the difference between self-evaluation and beating up on yourself. You might be a perfectionist. Then remember, self-evaluation isn't about you, it is about what you do. It is about what you do now, and what you can do differently.
In fact, the more self-acceptance we have, the more okay we are with our weaknesses and limitations, the more we can call on ourselves to be great. We accept where we are, and move to where we want to be. That is how people with disabilities, like Wilma Rudolph, the polio survivor who became the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s, become athletic heroes.
Where the opinion of one person, or one specific group of people, matters most
A specific person matters most when he or she has power and is making a decision that will affect our lives. If we are up for a promotion, then the opinion of the executive making that decision matters most. For a child who asks to be allowed to stay out later or go to a certain party, the parents opinions about trust of the child, the child's safety, and other issues matter most. In these situations, we must do our best to understand and respect that person. We hope also to gain the respect and understanding of that person. His or her respect and understanding increases the chance of a fair evaluation. We are more likely to get what we want, and also more likely to get feedback for improvement if we make the grade right now.
Of course, it is not always just one person. Once I was one of two finalists for an excellent job. I gained the full trust of the person who would be my direct supervisor. But he had a different idea of what the job was about than his boss's boss. The top guy took one look at what I could do and said, "This is not what we're looking for; I don't know why he sent you up here" and threw me out.
Facing power and authority is tough. It's worth learning to do well. It often means respecting people who do not seem to deserve our respect. In those moments, I take refuge in Plato: "Remember to be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
We can't always please everyone and we can't always get what we want. Therefore, we must be ready to do our best and to fail. And, if we can, we should have a Plan B, and keep our options open.
Where the opinion of some unspecified person or people matters most
Sometimes, someone's opinion matters most, but we don't know who that person is. The most obvious example is a job hunt. Say I am unemployed and need a job. If I don't have one by a certain date, I will lose my house. Now, I can't hire myself. I may think I'm Employee of the Year, but my opinion just doesn't matter, since I can't write my own paycheck. Who's opinion matters? The person with the power to hire me at some company I may not even know exists. So it is my job to get into the door, present my value and my qualifications, and let him make up his mind. And if not him, then someone else at some other company (or even the same company). Anyone with the power to hire me for any appropriate job is the person who matters most. It's a tough situation. But it's easier, in some ways, than when it is just one person. In this situation, if one person says "no," we go on to find another who will say, "yes."
This same situation arises in sales. Let's say that I want to sell ten units by the end of the month to meet my sales goal. It doesn't matter which ten people buy, but the choices of ten people do matter. So I have two approaches. I can play the numbers game and go out to as many people as possible. Or I can play the skills game and do the best I can with each person. Or I can play a balance of both games: High numbers plus excellent presentation creates success.
Now that we've considered all the possibilities related to a simple situation of evaluation and working to meet a goal, let's move ahead and look at how to do a simple self-evaluation.
A Simple Self-Evaluation: Step-by-Step
The Steps of Self-Evaluation
Yes, we can evaluate ourselves accurately and effectively. Here are the steps:
- Commit to knowing the truth. Whether the news is good or bad, once you know where you are (no matter how far down), you can start going in the right direction.
- Have mercy on yourself. Be loving and non-judgmental. Take time to clear away any negative voices that tell you you are already a failure. And be sure to set aside any prognosis (prediction of the future). Insist on only diagnosis: Description of what is true today.
- Accept that wherever you are today is the result of your past thoughts, feelings, and actions. And, by changing those thoughts, feelings, and actions, you can have a different tomorrow. Anything is possible (even if it isn't always easy)!
- Observe and record your actions.
- Observe and record the results of your actions. Where appropriate, take objective tests and include them as useful information for your self-evaluation.
- Where appropriate, listen to the opinions of others. Do your best to find people who will not put you on a pedestal, not be nice to avoid hurting your feelings, and not run you down. Evaluate what they say sincerely, and if it is really about you and free of bias, use it.
- Connect the dots. What actions lead to desirable results? Do them again, and do them more. What actions lead to results you do not want? Stop doing them.
Using the results of your self-evaluation
Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by the results of your self-evaluation. It doesn't matter if you see 100 ways to improve yourself. What matters is that you see one, or two, or three little things you can do, and then you start doing them every day. As my friend, athletic and spiritual coach Dan Millman says, a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing.
We can change our lives in just a few months by making only very small changes. If you don't believe me, check out this story of my friend Steve Joseph, who did exactly that, and went from being a couch potato to a marathon runner.
Most likely, you will see some improvement. If the improvement levels off after a few weeks or a few months, there are two things you can do:
- First, re-read your self-evaluation. Maybe you've done the three most important things, and you have 97 more to go. Tackle the next one, two, or three!
- Second, perform a new self-evaluation. Your success has brought you to a new place. Where are you now?
What if nothing changes?
Sometimes, we do a self-evaluation and decide to make changes, and nothing happens. Maybe we didn't really put the changes into action. In that case, we must look more deeply at our thoughts and feelings, and see if we are really motivated to make change.
What if we did put the changes into place, and it didn't make much difference? Then we need to take a deeper look at our assumptions. We're making some assumption that isn't true, and we haven't found it yet. Reading all my articles on self-evaluation will help.
I hope you will use the tools you found in this article to evaluate yourself, and use what you learn to grow. And there's more:
- You can learn more about the issues that make self-evaluation difficult.
- You can learn how to do deeper self-evaluations related to spirituality, creativity, and life purpose.
- You can learn how to do quick, easy self-evaluations for continuous improvement.
Have You Ever Done a Self-Evaluation?
Have you evaluated yourself before? Either way, are you ready to try now? (I hope you'll leave a longer comment below, as well.)
Evaluate and Improve
If you remember the first step - to approach yourself with love and acceptance, then self-evaluation is not painful or difficult. Just remember that who you truly are is a person ready to grow and change. Then you see that you're not really evaluating your "self": There's nothing to be defensive about. We are really just evaluating what we are doing and whether we are getting the results we want. If we are, great. If not, now we know what to do next.
- If you like self-evaluation, you might like personal growth. I've written lots of articles about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a great tool for personal growth.