The Power of Extreme Self-Awareness
A crucial part of your growth as a human being, whether it is in your game audio business or personal life, is the simple yet unbelievably uncommon act of being completely honest with yourself.
Seeing the outward obstacles in life is easy and rationalizing your failures and shortcomings by pushing the blame onto other people or situations is as effortless as breathing.
While life is unarguably unfair and inequity is as certain as death or taxes, the only person in the world who can make the best out of the cards you've been dealt... is you.
Whether life is a harsh desert or lush paradise often comes down to how we deal with it.
The famous physicist Richard Feynmann once said, "the easiest person to fool is yourself," and without a healthy dose of self-awareness, you may find your own ego and lack of honest reflection is actually the root of a great deal of your suffering.
Let's dive into what being "self-aware" means for your business and for your life and how being honest with yourself is often the first step towards massive personal growth.
Know Thyself - The Beginning of Wisdom
Being self-aware is different from being self-conscious.
Self-Consciousness is a preoccupation with how others might perceive you.
Self-Awareness is an objective evaluation of yourself unhindered by outside influence.
Ironically enough, one of the biggest hurdles to being self-aware is separating the perception you want others to have of you from who you really are.
This exercise is very difficult, mostly because human beings are social animals and many of our behaviors are rightly associated with being a coherent member of a group.
Psychology isn't black and white and our self-image is often wrapped in layers of:
What would my parents think?
But I went to school/paid a lot of money for this!
My friends all consider me to be the person who does "X".
And so on and so forth...
Your true opinions and indeed your true self is hard to parse out from these various external pressures.
You have onion-y layers, too, my friend!
Emotion & Self-Delusion
What complicates things even more for those of us seeking a clear view of ourselves, is that the more emotionally charged a situation or circumstance, the more difficult it is to see through our own biases and come to rational conclusions.
This can be demonstrated by the classic example of people's friends often noticing long before they do that the person they are currently in a relationship with is not good for them.
More often than not your best friends know your true self and can see that you are acting strangely.
Meanwhile, you are so emotionally invested in the relationship that you are willing to ignore or justify all kinds of obvious problems to avoid the difficulty of accepting the truth.
Besides being in a relationship, what other things in our lives can be so emotionally and psychologically demanding?
Why... Your career of course!
Self-Awareness for Freelancers
There are two distinctive kinds of self-awareness that you can use in your game audio career:
1 | Internal Self-Awareness
Internal self-awareness has to do with your true goals, ambitions, and values.
Practicing internal self-awareness involves understanding whether the choices you're making and the actions you're taking really align with your core goals and values.
Many of us have already had the experience of realizing that our true passion lies in creating music and sound effects for games and made major life decisions based on that realization.
Here are some other internal self-awareness questions that you might want to ask yourself:
Do my career goals align with my core values?
Are the setbacks or difficulties I'm experiencing a result of a personal issue or weakness I'm refusing to confront?
Am I wasting time on tasks that aren't important because they are convenient or easier than the things that will truly help me move forward?
Am I diluting my business/brand by offering too many services because I'm afraid of going all-in on the one or two things I really love?
If you're thinking, "Woah what a buzzkill those questions are!", I'm with you.
It felt about as good writing them as it does answering them.
No one said running your own business and building a sustainable career was easy.
2 | External Self-Awareness
External self-awareness is, in contrast to an unhindered perception of yourself, the ability to clearly see how other people view you.
Seeing as your job as a game audio freelancer is to attract and get hired by game developers, an understanding of how you and your services appear to them is probably not a bad thing, right?
I think we all know how easy it is to over-analyze the interactions we have with potential clients.
That coupled with the endless agony of deciding whether the reverb for that one gunshot in your demo reel was 2dB too loud is enough to drive you crazy!
We get so lost in the details that we forget to ask whether our demo reel is even made up of the kind of content that would attract the clients we want to work with.
You can't fix anything by solving the wrong problem
So what kind of questions might we ask in order to discover a more honest awareness of how others perceive us, unbiased by social anxiety or fear?
Do I really know and understand what my ideal customers are looking for and is what I'm offering them appealing?
Am I portraying an authentic version of myself or a fake persona that I think will get me more gigs? Hint: being fake won't get you far.
Have I ever actually asked customers/potential customers for honest feedback on my reel, website, etc... or are all my worries based only on my own unfounded assumptions of what others think?
While these questions may be difficult or uncomfortable, not knowing or even ignoring the answers will, in the long run, cause you much more discomfort than confronting them now.
If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you.
Asking the Right Questions
To practice better self-awareness, a tip I've learned is to change your "Why" questions into "What" questions.
Research has shown that we are actually astoundingly poor judges of why we think or act the way we do.
"Why didn't I get that sound design gig?" is a therefore a poor way to frame a question for yourself. It focuses on the negative and doesn't lead to productive self-reflection.
"What could I do to increase the chances of my next discussion with a dev resulting in a paid job?" is focused on objectives and future goals, rather than past mistakes.
Other ideas include mindfulness training, (I love the "Waking Up" app from Sam Harris.) and generally spending more time alone with your thoughts and feelings.
Terrifying... I know.
Me too random gif guy... me too.
"What is necessary to change a person is to change their awareness of themselves."
If you're highly self-aware, you'll be more successful at objectively evaluating yourself, finding your own blind spots, managing your emotions, and understanding how others really perceive you.
Highly self-aware people ask themselves not only the hard questions, but they frame them in a way that won't add psychological strain to the deep digging sometimes required to make major breakthroughs in their lives and careers.
You after a little self-reflection
If you want a concrete place to start, here's a question to ask yourself that will hopefully leave you on a positive note:
What is working well in my life and work today?
Sometimes we're so focused on the bad we forget to reflect on the good.
You're doing great already, but you and I both know you can be better.
With a little self-awareness, you can make it happen.
Hi, I’m Ben Gallagher.
After struggling for many years to make it as a game audio freelancer, I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.