Self-Consciousness and Self-Awareness

You’ve been leading recently. Leading yourself forward without hesitating when outward support isn’t there, without looking for the comfort that comes from the insular voice – the insular life – that no longer works.

You are switching gears, between the self-conscious and the self-aware. What’s the difference? Here’s an example to demonstrate:

You’re in a restaurant. You’ve been there before. The food is good – reliable. The service, however, has never been their strong suit. Eclectic, you have politely described it to others. You take your seat and the server takes your drink order. Sure enough, you find yourself waiting a long time for the drink to arrive – 10 minutes pass, 15 minutes. All you really want to do is have a meal and relax and not think about why you have to wait. When your drink comes, they take your food order. You hope the initial delay was just a snag – now that your food order was in the queue, it should go back to normal turnaround. And yet… 10 minutes pass… 15 minutes pass… 20 minutes pass… It was just a sandwich… At the point of exasperation, someone – not your server, but another staff member – brings your sandwich. It’s been nearly 30 minutes. You look down and notice that aside from the sandwich on your plate there isn’t a napkin.

Self-conscious you sighs. You don’t want to make a scene. For all you know the server is overworked or there are problems in the kitchen. You sit there, waiting to get his attention. You’re pissed off, but it’s just a sandwich. You eventually decide to chow down and if you can catch someone’s attention you will, and chalk the experience up to bad luck. As your hands get dirty from the sandwich your anger simmers. You feel victimized, not by the restaurant but by something inside of you forcing you to hold back.

Self-aware you: this is bullshit. I’ve been here 45 minutes for a sandwich and they don’t even have the common courtesy of giving me a napkin? You stand up. Your chair scrapes against the floor. Your server passes and you raise your voice and ask for a napkin in a way that clearly expresses that you are pissed off. The table next to you is watching. The server brings a napkin and apologizes and asks whether you would like your drink refreshed. You tell them that you don’t care about the drink. You care about your food arriving in a timely manner. You could give a shit about the drink. You finish the sandwich, settle your bill, and leave.

The self-conscious you is holding you back, worried about appearances – not in a necessarily narcissistic way, but perhaps from an earlier learned fear of reprisal when speaking out. The self-conscious you internalizes your conflicts; conflicts are slowly digested and subjected to a passive intellectual scrutiny that doesn’t end up resolving your upset feelings about the matter, setting you up for the same problem to reoccur down the road.

The self-aware you wants what is reasonable to expect. It will not allow itself to be taken advantage of, taken for granted. The self-aware you will not stand for bullying from others, or from voices from your past. Rather than internalize, you externalize: you deal with the matter in a way that is – above all – fair to you. Appearances, ashmearances.

Yet, being self-aware isn’t easy. It isn’t easy speaking out when there’s no one there to support you (other than yourself). It isn’t easy taking a stand when you may be the only one in the room standing. Self-awareness is progress, but that doesn’t make it easy. The one advantage of being self-conscious is that you have yourself to comfort you in your cocooned silence. Being self-aware is being comfortable with yourself, with your expectations and viewpoints and overcoming the sometimes-inevitable awkwardness that follows self-expression.

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