My Journey of Self-Awareness

Matthew 16:24-26The Message (MSG)

24-26 Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?


I’m pretty sure all of life is a self-awareness journey. It’s crazy to think God, my Creator, knows me better than I know myself, but the older I get the more I know it’s true.

I think back to my childhood, and I was always very sure and confident of what I wanted and what I was about. My mom and I have had some great moments in the past few years where we’ve gotten to talk through some of those childhood memories.

I was pretty spunky and always loved music. Even at age three I’d sit in front of the TV with mom’s egg beater and sing along with Tom Jones at the top of my lungs. Or I’d make up my own songs, kinda hopping around, dance-like as I sang.

The first time I sat in an auditorium to see a dance performance I was five. And immediately I knew – I wanted to do that. So I told my mom. And I did. For eight years I danced. Those last few years I danced four nights a week. And I loved it.

But when it was time to go to high school, I was just as sure I wanted to be a cheerleader. So I quit dance to start my “training.” And as soon as I was allowed, I tried out – I cheered for three years. And I loved it.

My love of music stayed strong, so in junior high, I chose choir as my elective. And I never looked back. I craved the training and thrived with the challenges. I think it’s where I discovered I could lead. Even though by high school I could tell I wasn’t as naturally talented as others, I pushed myself to be part of the best group and loved the performance part of it all.

I tell you all this not to brag or to sound self-important. But because all that changed somehow. Somewhere along the way I lost that confidence.

I think what happened is life. I learned that other people had opinions of what I did. I learned that there are gradients to how good someone does something.

I learned to worry about all that.

When I try to pinpoint when that started to change, I don’t think it was all at once. I think it was piece by piece. I remember going off to college with some gusto, knowing exactly where I wanted to go and what to study. But by my sophomore year I was LOST. I didn’t feel like I knew myself anymore. Where did that girl go who said she knew exactly who she was and what she was about?

I think it was when I started asking those kinds of questions that my self-awareness journey began. I just didn’t know what to call it at the time.

I took my first Myers-Briggs personality test my first year of teaching. Our principal had the entire staff take it. I had such high hopes for it, but like other personality tests, I had a hard time selecting answers that fit me. By the end of it I scored right down the middle on the Introvert/Extrovert section.

I felt wishy-washy. Who in their right mind can’t figure out a personality test? It added to my lost-ness.

Fast forward a dozen years….

In the middle of raising three boys, I took a full-time ministry job at my church when I was blessed to go to Chicago for a conference. It just so happened that all four of us going were women, so we signed up for a women’s conference, as well, and headed up a day early.

I was new in ministry, so I knew very few people and even less about…well, ministry. But what these two veteran women were teaching on was self-awareness — knowing ourselves well enough to be able to best succeed at what we were called to do.

They had my attention.

It was here that I finally began to understand my personality. All my growing up years I was drawn to those performance-based things – singing, dancing, cheering. So I had assumed I was an extrovert. It turns out I am really an introvert who has a few extrovert qualities.

Why does this matter?

Well, for starters, I learned that as an introvert I get my energy from alone time.

Alone. Time.

I’d spent YEARS berating myself and guilting myself whenever I’d go “hide” in my room or pick up a novel to read. Years. And all along it was what I needed. I needed seclusion and quiet to recharge my batteries.

Can anyone say FREEDOM? It was like these invisible bonds just FELL off me.

Of course I learned that my extrovert friends get recharged around people. Lots of people.

Another aspect of myself that came into clarity that day is that as an introvert I tend to process things in my head. My extrovert friends? They like processing out loud with others.

I can’t even tell you how many lights came on with that bit of revelation.

I’d spent the last three years on a staff, led by a pastor, who were all extroverts. No wonder I always felt tongue-tied and stressed out in meetings. Everything was processed in the moment, out loud, with no lead-time to think on things.

I was beginning to see the value of self-awareness. I was already gaining perspective on myself – why I reacted in certain situations the way I did, why I had a hard time in staff meetings, and why I craved those quiet times.

I’ve also realized that I’m an avid learner. So of course I started reading books and articles that would continue to help me become self-aware…so that I could be a better person, leader, parent, wife, and friend.

Fast forward again…I had one of those moments one day as I read a blog post mentioning a “Coaching Group” — I just knew, like the deep-down kind of knowing, that I was supposed to go. I know now that was all God. He gave me that deep knowing, and I acted on it and doors opened. Before I knew it, I was in Nashville with 19 other women I’d never met, led by a woman I’d never heard of before.

And it was amazing. Without meaning to, I had entered into another big self-awareness season.

I could write a book on this stuff….just the stuff I learned in the two coaching sessions alone. But suffice it for this post to say I took another personality test.

This time it was the Enneagram. I’d never heard of it, so I had no preconceived expectations or understanding of how it worked. All I knew was that I was asked to answer the questions from what I could remember myself as a child.

Remember that kid with confidence and gumption?

I tried to tap into her. I answered the questions. But I kept thinking of other tests where I always landed in the middle, never had a solid trait that stood out. I was usually mish-mash, wishy-washy, right?

Not this time. This time two traits stood WAY out above the rest. I was THRILLED. It felt like progress.

I am a HELPER and a PEACEMAKER. At the time, as I read about what those two descriptors had to say, I had to agree. I embodied both fully.

The next day I was shocked and dismayed to learn that these traits had partnering FEARS. And Helper and Peacemaker had similar fears – fear of loss of relationship and fear of being unloved.

Was that me? Could that be me?

I denied.

I ignored.

I denied some more.

Until I was on the plane ride home and was journaling. Then the light came on again. I had caught myself describing a season in my parenting life that was especially hard when it hit me. I had parented with a LOT of fear of losing that relationship. Every decision had I made, every reaction I had…all were based in that fear. Oh. My.

Since that time I’ve continued to read books, blogs, and Scripture, to pray, journal, and talk with like-minded peers who also seek to grow in their self-awareness so that they can become more fully the person God created them to be. And what I’m discovering is that this process of getting to my “true self” will probably take my whole life.

I have layers of lies, fears, and insecurities to peel back and lay at God’s feet as I try to reach that True Self.

I need to better listen to my body – physically, emotionally, and spiritually — instead of trying to control, ignore, or manage it.

I should not apologize for or neglect being who God created me to be. For example, I am very emotion-based. And it is my tendency to hide or stuff my feelings, especially at work, or apologize for them when they show themselves. (That’s not to say I shouldn’t apologize to someone if I say or do something worthy of an apology. Apologizing for how I’m created is different). The trick is to find balance. Allow myself to feel without letting those feelings control my reactions. Maybe focus, instead, on why am I feeling the way I do – getting at the heart or truth of what is happening inside me.

I need to allow God to heal my wounds and fill my God-shaped hole so that I don’t wound others or try to fill that hole with other things.

I must trust God with all that I am because He made me. He really does know me better than I know myself.

Another thing I came away with from that Coaching Group that still resonates with me is that “ministry can keep us from our own stories (True Selves) because we become too comfortable with one version of ourselves.”

I feel like that might be where I am at now. As I continue to walk this path of self-awareness, I feel like I keep rediscovering myself, uncovering layers that have been hidden since childhood or finding new things about myself I just didn’t realize before.

Right now I think there is another version of myself in me. It’s not that it’s necessarily better, maybe just different. I am in a season where I’ve gotten comfortable. Work is challenging on some levels – but not like it was in the beginning where every little thing forced me to turn to God to figure out.

I think that’s it. I feel like God is calling me deeper. He’s wanting me back in that place of discomfort, where I have to lean on Him for each decision, each action. And when I ponder that for any length of time, my old friend Fear shows up. So I know I have work to do.

This year I chose ANCHOR as my one word. I didn’t work hard to come up with it. It just kinda landed in my head and wouldn’t go away. So I claimed it. I think this is a year where I need to get back to the place where God is my anchor, the One I attach myself to so I don’t drift or wander. The One I seek first. The One I pursue with all my heart and soul and strength.

I’m entering a new season of learning, and it’s my hope that as I take the next steps to clearer self-awareness, I will also become more God-aware. And then He’ll begin to work in me so that the version of myself He is ready to reveal will become more clear and I’ll know where He is leading me next.

Just putting those words down makes my stomach hurt a little and my heart beat faster. I think I’ve come to like my current version of self. It’s comfortable. I know what to expect, and I manage most days pretty well.

But I’m also restless. Ready for the next challenge – whatever that is. I don’t feel like it’s “right around the corner,” but I do think there will be a little more of that girl who sat in the auditorium and knew immediately, “THAT is what I want to do.”

Journeying Onward,

Shelley Johnson

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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