In her recent post at Quartz, design entrepreneur Lauren Bacon shares an anecdote about a hated boss whose influence haunted her years after she had quit and started her own business. It was only some time later, after a process of introspection, that Bacon realized many of the decisions she had made in guiding her company were really subconscious attempts to subvert this ghost from her past:

"Where he had been relentlessly self-promotional to the point of arrogance, I resisted marketing. Where he had bought into rapid, exponential growth as the only path to business success, I refused to hire help even though I was working myself to the bone."

Bacon realized that her fervent attempts to avoid becoming anything like "that guy" had prevented her from making bold choices. She compares it to the fear rock bands have of "selling out," which leads her to point out that fear is the operative word. We fear what we don't like in others because we can't stand the thought of exhibiting those behaviors ourselves:

"When we succumb to disdain, we transform our worst fears about ourselves into a kind of reverse-affirmation levied at someone else. If he’s an arrogant windbag, then my self-image as a modest and thoughtful person is reaffirmed, while my terror of self-promotion or provoking conflict can safely be tucked away into a corner labeled 'bad' and 'not me.' 

 On the other hand, if I have a habit of judging people as arrogant windbags, it might behoove me to take a look in the mirror and ask myself, 'Where in my life could I stand to assert myself more strongly?' Or, 'Where am I staying silent and abdicating my authority?'

Bacon suggests an exercise. Think of someone who really gets your goat and then ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do I feel about this person, in general?

2. What specifically about them is so triggering? (Spend a good amount of time here, dumping it all out.)

3. What are they modeling for me, in a “how not to be” way?

4. How does my reaction relate to my own values?

Once you've set that foundation, you can use your introspections to identify your own actions and decisions to be improved. Think of the people you judge for behaviors you're embarrassed about exhibiting. Determine what your personal goals are and assess whether your latent or apparent fears have held you back.

Remember: knowing is half the battle. Identifying yourself, your fears and capabilities, will lead to a sustained sense of self-awareness, which is the key to longer-lasting success.

Take a look at Bacon's full article at Quartz. It's well worth the read.

Photo credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock