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Once upon a time, I was a Mean Girl. I “hooked up” with men in relationships while lying to my boyfriend, had mean nicknames for women I didn’t like, hung out exclusively with 2 people- THE.BEST 2 people on the planet, joined Facebook groups like “girls who love ESPN” because I was a “cool girl” even though I couldn’t care less about sports, loved gossip, plotted revenge when I was angry, rarely called my family… The works. And I loved it. The callous distance this wedged between me and the rest of the world made me feel invincible. I was living middle fingers up with my “rockstars.” Thankfully this was a short period and I only averaged 2 real friends at the time (other than men of course because women were “too much drama”) who I partook in the aforementioned activities with, so hopefully I didn’t cause too much damage. This Mean Girl armor evolved into a friendlier “take no shit” type of facade as I hit my mid-twenties and established a morsel of empathy. I was kinder, I reserved judgment at first, my “in crowd” grew and I was consistently taking on new members… But I had “boundaries” like the fire trenches around Winterfell.
As I think back to that woman, I feel sorry for her. She was so fearful and uncertain, which made her feel helpless and turn feral. She didn’t know who she was and made terrible decisions that didn’t serve her and ended up in a mess that needed to be mopped up later. I can’t think of a distinctive moment when my mean girlness dissipated, there was some introspection, some amends, a lot more introspection, fewer amends… But what is distinctive is the way I feel now compared to Mean Girl Franny. I know how to make the right decisions for me, I know how to create healthy boundaries, my relationships are unmatched (if I do say so myself), I trust myself implicitly and I don’t waste my time pretending to like sports (sorry babe)… and that’s because I take the time to know who I am.
By definition, self awareness, according to Dan Goleman, the guy who popularized the Emotional Intelligence definition (self awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence) is knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions through accurate self-assessment, emotional awareness and self-confidence. Let’s dive in to how I tackle each of these and what the benefits have been for me:
Accurate Self-Assessment AKA Know Thyself
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met…And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
― Alan Bennett, The History Boys
Looking back, my self-assessment journey started at a young age. Aside from talking to my girlfriends about everything, I devoured validation for my experiences from books. Beverly Cleary’s pesky little sister character, Ramona, Anne Frank and her tales of masturbation, chanting “we must, we must, we must increase our bust” with Margaret, Judy Blume’s beloved character, these girls were my tribe. When the intrawebs happened and blogs became a thing, finfing myself in others got easier, an entire community of brave souls willing to share their innards with the world opened up to me and I spend many happy hours getting to know them.
Other people’s stories are hit or miss though and I like to learn about myself specifically so I dig into all forms of self-reflection tools from astrology to psychology…I am a Sagittarian through and through, obsessed with freedom, curious, in love with the outdoors. According to birth order theory, my personality type falls between the “youngest” child and an “only child,” considering the age difference between me and my siblings. When I entered the working world I discovered personality assessments and took every one I was offered- DISC (I’m a high I), Birkman (dominant Green) , and Energy Leadership Assessment (Primary 6, secondary 5). When I met my husband, we learned our love languages (Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch over here).. Not to mention those soul-revealing Buzzfeed quizzes like which Harry Potter house you belong to (Gryffindor baby) and what princess you’re most like (Moana!), I’m into it all… While these methods are more or less accurate, they don’t tell the whole story that is Franny.
My final, and most accurate assessing myself, was by far the scariest. I had to find a way to take the search within to take account of the stories and thoughts I had floating around in my head. Journaling and coaching are how I hold up the mirror to myself so I can understand how I’m really feeling. They fill in the gaps to my incessant research and help me weed out what’s true for me and what’s not.
Emotional Awareness AKA Own Your ISH
I am notoriously unafraid to share how I feel. I have always been talented at identifying my emotions and was proud of how well I could articulate (read: justify) my feelings. During the aforementioned “Mean Girl” era, I considered emotional awareness to be- I am aware that I am angry and I am aware that you caused my anger, therefore I’m allowed to send you texts all about that anger or whatever emotion I was feeling, as I see fit. My emotional clarity always seemed to be at its best after a few drinks during this period (I could have used that app that blocks you from drunk-texting). If I felt it, I felt justified to share it. Three things blew my mind over the last few years that have completely changed how I define emotional awareness:
1- Emotions are just information- Mind.blown. I first heard this concept at a women’s empowerment-type conference and it hit me hard. You mean to tell me that I don’t need to attend to every feeling that comes up in my brain? Because that ish is exhausting. The speaker pointed out just how many emotions we all have throughout the day and that they can’t all be acted on, nor should they be. As I started noticing the frequency of my different emotions, I realized that I can have a dozen within 10 minutes.
This theory was huge for me and it took me time to figure out how to put it into practice. I decided the best course of action was none. When I felt a strong surge of emotion that I felt compelled to share, I started waiting 2 minutes before I said anything. The result? The majority of what I felt was so important to share, wasn’t. And when it comes to my angriest moments, I don’t apologize as much because I don’t say or do things I don’t mean. It’s been liberating and when I take a step back from what I am feeling, I find myself and some of my more intense emotions highly entertaining. It creates the space to remind me that I am not my emotions.
2- People may push your buttons but they did not create them- This was a gem from coaching school. This forced me to take responsibility for my emotions. I used to believe that responsibility was the same as blame, but this idea taught me that even though Philippe is to blame for pushing my button (love you babe), I am responsible for that button. Tracing my trigger back to its creation may also uncover the person who is to blame for creating it but that person isn’t living with it. That button is still my responsibility.
This created a domino effect of a few things. First, I learned to stop letting my buttons control my life by confronting them as they come up. There used to be entire categories of life that I avoided because they would get me riled up. One took the form of an ex-friend. Anything that reminded me of said friend was to be avoided- songs, movies, everything. Then, smack dab in the middle of my year at coaching school, a song came on that sent me right back to lying around my apartment laughing with my then-ex-friend. I remember rolling my eyes on the tarmac as my flight taxied away from the gate because I knew this was a test. Instead of waiting 2 minutes to address this intense emotion I’d been avoiding for 9 years, I decided to wait the entire flight. Then, I dug in. I reached out, I journaled, I cried, I didn’t sleep, I made amends and it was ugly and painful then it was beautiful but most importantly, I no longer had to avoid Stevie Wonder’s Music of my Mind album, birds of paradise plants (which are flipping everywhere in Florida) and I got my friend back!
Then, I learned to create healthy boundaries. As I work through my triggers one by one, I notice more and more when my buttons get pressed. I identify the situations and people who bring out the worst in me and limit them as best I can.
3- Asking what versus why– This came from a Ted Talk with Tasha Eurich (see Franny’s Mentor Circle below for link). As I started being more introspective, I noticed when things were tough, journaling just felt like I was wallowing. I didn’t get the idea specifically from the Ted Talk but it best sums up what I started doing in my journal to combat the feeling of just ruminating in my sadness. I started spending time trying to understand what my emotions were rather than why I was feeling that way or why something happened to me. Why questions tended to just send me down a blame spiral that left me feeling like a victim. Asking myself what I was feeling helped uncover buttons, underlying motivations, and essentially fueled growth and forward movement instead of a pity party.
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” -Tyrion Lannister
When I was a Mean Girl, I thought I was brave hiding behind all of my judgment and self-righteousness. Avoiding my true emotions, always playing the quintessentially “cool girl”- I never texted back first, please- I thought I was on the path to true strength. Brene Brown’s work on bravery and vulnerability teaches that our traditional view of bravery is all wrong. The best way to be brave is to be vulnerable. When I think of the things people consider the bravest things I’ve ever done- changing my whole life for love, starting a blog, quitting my job to start my own business-they were also the most vulnerable moments of my life. Making those decisions and staying true to myself built my confidence the most.
First, it taught me to trust my gut. As the baby in the family, I do what I want. But honestly, I usually get advice from my best friends, my sister, and likely my cousin before doing most big things. I also tell my mom a lot to gauge how intensely I’ll be judged…In my bravest moments though, I changed my life for Philippe, decided to start spilling all my tea on the intrawebs and reneged on the Spanish style home of my dreams, without anyone’s opinion. I know the difference between fleeting emotions and my intuition. I know when to listen to advice and when it’s not for me.
I get a lot of critical feedback on my brave decisions. When 6 day Fran landed in Florida after abandoning her life in Maryland, my dad picked me up from the airport, took me to dinner and promptly asked WTF I was thinking… To which I likely responded with some headstrong version of- YOU don’t have to be comfortable with my decisions, I do. My confidence creates thick skin to stand up for myself and hold on to my conviction even when the people who love me most think I’m crazy. No one can tell me who I am, I already know AND I only I know what truly best for me.
The more self aware I become, the wilder it seems my decisions become, which attracts more unsolicited advice as others project their insecurities onto me (if this is you, see button pushing above). I used to give credence to these opinions especially when that advice came disguised as “concern.” Life felt scary and I believed my dreams were silly and unattainable. Then I remember…Life is scary. I used to point and laugh and judge from the cheap seats too…But that’s not me anymore.
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If you’re interested in increasing your self-awareness: