Hello, who are you? What’s your story? What are you good at, what do you like doing and what do you value? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Tell me about your education and who you are. What unique talents are you finding and developing during your education? How are you striving to become the best possible version of you? Having good self knowledge will help you answer these big questions, which are important for your future. Knowing your future depends on knowing who you are now. 🏆
What’s your story, coding glory?
We’re hardwired to love storytelling because it help us understand our world, see figure 2.2. We use stories to organise and communicate, so knowing your story is a crucial part of knowing who you are. What’s your story?
Figure 2.2: Storytelling is an ancient art and who doesn’t love a good story? As a species Homo sapiens, we need to tell and hear stories to understand the world around us. What’s your story, coding glory? Public domain image of a painting by John Everett Millais, with a seafarer telling the story of what happened out at sea, via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3VHM
Self-awareness, understanding who you are, is important for leading a healthy and happy life, and likely to be an important factor in your future success. One way to develop self-awareness is to think about the finer details of your story. (Box and Mocine-McQueen 2019) How did you get here, where are you going, what has inspired you? Who is the authentic you? (Ware 2011) What are your hopes and dreams? By starting to answer these questions you will gain a better understanding of who you are. This includes strengths, weaknesses, motivation and values. (Bolles 2019)
Your story is probably complex but you need to know it so you can distill the details of it into much shorter stories on your job applications described in section 7.6.
Universities offer many opportunities for self improvement, self discovery and developing your unique skills. One way to build your self-awareness is to reflect on your knowledge, values and skills. In Waldorf education this is characterised as “head, heart and hands.” (Easton 1997)
Head: What do you know?
Heart: What do you value, what motivates you?
Hands: What can you do? What have you done so far? What will you do in the future? Your actions define your impact, see chapter 18
Answering these questions will help you understand your story.
Ikigai: What is the meaning of life?
Many of the learning outcomes described above are non-trivial. You may have good self-awareness and be able to describe aspects of who you are in a matter of minutes. Other personality traits make take longer to uncover. You can develop better self-awareness by describing four attributes shown in Figure 2.3, together these are known as your ikigai (生き甲斐) or “reason for being.”
- what do you love doing?
- what are you good at?
- what does the world need?
- what can you be paid for?
Figure 2.3: Reasons for being, a concept in Japanese known as ikigai. According to ikigai, the most meaningful life lies at the intersection of four sets: 1. What you are good at 2. What you love 3. What the world needs and 4. What you can get paid for. What do you have in each of these sets and what are on your personal intersections? Ikigai sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND
You’ll be lucky if you can find activities at the intersection of all four sets shown Figure 2.3. In practice, you may realistically only be able to achieve one, two or three intersections. That said, it’s still a valuable exercise to think about what is in each set for you.
Self assess your ikigai
Take a sheet of paper, draw the four overlapping rings shown in Figure 2.3, and spend five to ten minutes adding things in each ring.
- What are your values?
- What motivates you?
- Are there things you like doing that you aren’t particularly good at?
- Why does that make them enjoyable?
Thinking about your ikigai will clarify your knowledge of yourself. Some parts of your identity are so important that they are protected by legislation, in the UK and in other countries. The next section looks at those.
Let’s pause here. Insert a breakpoint in your
code and slowly step through it so we can examine the current values of your variables and parameters.
This chapter has looked at some big issues around identity, by inviting you to think about some fundamental questions. Another way to think about these questions is as coding challenges. They are non-trivial questions to answer, it might take you weeks, months or even years to answer some of them. But they are worth spending time thinking about
- What are your values?
- What makes you happy?
- What do you want to get from your time at University?
- What do you want after University?
- Where do you see yourself in \(x\) years time?
- What are your privileges (if any), see section 2.7.5
- You can get a quick summary of your strengths and weaknesses by answering 16 short questions at icould.com/buzz-quiz. Which animal are you?
The signposts in the next section may help tackle some of these coding challenges.
Signposts from here on identity
This chapter challenges you to reflect on who you are and what you’re good at. We’ve only scratched the surface, so if you want to dig deeper you’ll find the following resources useful:
- The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
- What Colour is Your Parachute?
- How Your Story Sets You Free
- A range of books about privilege
Your dying regrets?
One of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (Ware 2011) is that people wish they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, and not a life that others expected of them. Figuring out exactly who your authentic self is can be challenging. Bronnie Ware’s book might help, it has some very moving, personal and insightful true stories of peoples regrets that will illuminate your own values and might just change your life. The top five regrets, outlined in the book are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish that I had let myself be happier
You need to be courageous to live a regret-free life but the alternative is to die full of regret, see Bronnie’s video in figure 2.5.
Figure 2.5: Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware explains the top five regrets of the dying. (Ware 2017) Bronnie learned a lot from looking after people on their deathbeds, then wrote it all down in a fantastic book (Ware 2011). The image in the figure is a screenshot, you can watch the two minute video here at youtu.be/nayz3xJxRTA
Colouring your parachute
Since first being published in 1972, over ten million copies of What Colour is Your Parachute? have been sold. It has been translated into 20 languages and is used in 26 countries. What is good about Parachute is that it has some useful self-inventory exercises that go beyond the introductory ones in this guidebook, particularly in the context of your future career. While the style and examples can be U.S. centric, it’s a classic self-help book that looks at a broad variety of issues around job hunting. The author, Richard Nelson Bolles was a Harvard educated chemical engineer and he explains how you can’t possibly decide what to do in five years time in the video in figure 2.6. Where do you see yourself in five years time? is a question some interviewers like to ask.
Figure 2.6: Where will you be five years from now? Best-selling author of Colouring Your Parachute Dick Bolles discusses the gaps between education and employment. (Bolles 2014) The image in the figure is a screenshot, you can watch the full 32 minute talk at youtu.be/oeP6Pm3Xf-8
What’s your story?
A useful technique for developing self-awareness is to think about what your story is. Heather Box and Julian Mocine-McQueen’s book How Your Story Sets You Free (Box and Mocine-McQueen 2019) takes a storytelling approach to help you gain a better picture of who you are and what you value. What’s good about this book is its short, less than 100 pages and contains practical exercises which extend those in this chapter.
The buzz quiz in section 2.6 will give you a brief summary of your personality. There are lots of tools for personality profiling which go into more depth by asking you a lot more than 16 questions. Some of these services are free such as:
Your University may also pay a subscription for personality profiling services, check with your careers service for details.
Check your privileges
Reflecting on your identity should lead you to check any privileges you might have. Being grateful for any privileges you may have is also beneficial for your mental health which we talk about in chapter 3 so:
There is a lot more to your identity than your race, class, gender and sexual orientation, see your protected characteristics in section 2.5.
Summarising self awareness
Too long, didn’t read (TL;DR)? Here’s a summary:
This chapter has looked at who you are. Being self aware, understanding your strengths and weaknesses is key to getting what you need from your future. Questions about your identity are non-trivial, hopefully this chapter has started you thinking about who you are, what motivates you and what you want out of life. You will need to keep revisiting these questions about your identity because some aspects of your identity may change.
What do you know and what don’t you know about yourself, see figure 2.7? These fundamental design questions you’ll need to address when you starting building your future. We touched on understanding any privileges you may have as being important for understanding who you are but also in being beneficial for your mental health.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at mental health in more detail.