Learning What You’re Really Like Is Priceless (but Painful)

I still remember the night my friend Aaron suggested I interview three people to learn what kind of impact I had on them. I was in a men’s accountability group, and no one other than Aaron seemed enthusiastic about our doing it. 

I was especially uncomfortable when I looked at the interview questions, realized they were designed to elicit mostly-negative responses, and saw one question that was particularly pointed: What do you observe about my life that you find distasteful?

“I probably shouldn’t interview someone like you,” I said to my friend Patrick, who was sitting next to me. “You’re too nice. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to be able to think of something distasteful about my life.”

“Oh, I think I can,” Patrick quickly replied.

I was taken aback. 

“Like what?” I asked.

“Do you want me to tell you right now?” he asked, and when I said yes, I began one of the hardest journeys into self-discovery that I’ve ever experienced. 

 In “The Reason You’re Not Married (Might Be Looking You in the Mirror),” I suggest this exercise to single people as a means of realistically assessing what they bring to a potential marriage. But the interviews can be conducted by anyone at any stage in life, and if your heart is teachable, the lessons you’ll learn from it will be priceless. 

Now if you’re like the majority of people to whom I’ve suggested this exercise, your response will be, “Believe me, I’m well-aware of the ways I negatively impact others.” Don’t be so sure. There’s a vast difference between being self-conscious and being self-aware. Self-consciousness is the natural insecurity all of us deal with as we wrestle with feeling out-of-place in the world. Self-awareness, on the other hand, is the ability to step outside ourselves and understand the way we’re affecting people around us. And let’s be real: You can’t truly understand the way you’re affecting the people around you unless you’ve got the guts to ask them.

The interview questions aren’t set in stone and can be tailored to fit the stage of life you’re in, but generally speaking, you should sit down with at least three people and flesh out the following: (1) what you’re like when you’re at your best; (2) what you’re like when you’re at your worst; (3) the ways you can better serve others; (4) the things in your life that are distasteful; and (5) the things in your life that are worth emulating.

If you’re thinking about taking the challenge, let me give you a few suggestions that will help you get the most out of the experience:

  1. Beg people to be honest. Most people are not inclined to share negative feedback, and you’ve got to let them know that it will only be helpful if they’re as frank as possible.
  2. Take notes. It’s tough sitting across from someone who’s exploring your vulnerabilities, and giving your hands something productive to do during the interview helps you stay focused on something other than your hurt feelings. Most importantly, it will help you remember their feedback.
  3. Do not defend yourself. It’s perfectly natural to want to explain yourself whenever you’re being criticized, but don’t do it during these interviews. If you feel the need to speak, it should only be for the purpose of asking clarifying questions.
  4. Be prepared for feelings of resentment: In a perfect world, you would do these interviews and be so grateful for the other person’s honesty, but you’re human, and your prideful ego is going to get bruised. You will have to fight the temptation to resent the people you interviewed, especially if their honesty gets unnecessarily brutal. And that brings me to my last suggestion.
  5. Seek guidance as you process. Whether you meet with a pastor, counselor, mentor, parent or trusted friend, process these interviews with someone who cares for you and won’t coddle you. You want this to be a humbling experience that inspires change, not a humiliating one that inspires self-pity and withdrawal.

If this seems horribly intimidating, I’ll be frank: It is. I suggested this to a man who speaks before national audiences one time, and just the idea of it made him visibly uncomfortable. But he’s not alone — I don’t even like it, and I’ve done it three times, but that’s no surprise.

Nobody likes to hear criticism, and nobody wants to feel like they’re a burden on others. But we’ve all got blind spots, and we all burden others in ways we’ll never realize unless we ask. As the Word says, “He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Proverbs 15:32, NKJV). So go ahead, invite the rebuke and see how God uses it to help you understand how you impact your world. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it — especially for the people around you.