Dr. Merary Simeon and her family standing on a golf course at the beach self-awareness emotional intelligence

Why Self-Awareness is the Foundation of Emotional Intelligence

Dr. Merary Simeon, a Fortune 50 HR Executive and co-founder of ZERA Consulting, explains why understanding your inner world is key to becoming self-aware. She also shares why vulnerability is a must for anyone wanting to feel the full benefit of self-awareness.

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You can listen to this conversation with Dr. Merary on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

Gaining an understanding of my inner world really involves examining my thoughts and where feelings, beliefs, and emotions are coming from. Understanding where those feelings come from is critical in times when they come under attack or a problem occurs. Typically, the problem that arises is never the problem. It becomes a problem when I don’t get to the root cause.

For me, self-awareness takes humility, courage and most importantly, gentleness with ourselves. Not everyone shares your same values. This is why knowing your triggers is key. Learn to embrace the power of pause. This is where your ego has to step aside and really identify emotions within you and how they are outwardly coming across to others. This might mean going into those dark places that you probably don’t want to go into and learning to call your emotion what it is, whether that’s hurt or jealousy or anger. This is actually where mindfulness comes in to the equation, because you’re bringing attention to how you feel in the present moment. Hmm. It, it, it really involved me bringing the attention to the present moment. I’m hurt. Yeah. This is why, but without judgment. Right. And that’s the hard part, . 

Healthy self-awareness really involves practicing self-compassion. If we’re not gentle in the discovery of self-awareness with ourselves, that we cannot expect other people to be gentle with us. You can’t expect from others what you don’t even expect of yourself. And you may discover that you need outside support from a spiritual advisor, or a counselor, or a therapist, and that’s OK! Self-awareness is something that we can all learn, but you have to be ready for a not-so-easy road ahead at times.

Many times, we may have empathy toward others, but we’re not as nice to ourselves. This is likely because it’s easier to say that you’ve got it together and just hide your true emotions in a situation. We often do this unconsciously. The next time you’re tempted to hide your true feelings or emotions away, become compassionate with yourself. Have empathy for yourself. Just doing that alone will help you react differently and be more honest with yourself and whoever else is involved. Because I always say to myself, would I, would I treat somebody else this way? Yeah. And 99.9% it should be a hundred, but I’m not perfect. It should be no. Right. 

While self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, it is also one of the top characteristics of successful people. It is a scary journey to be vulnerable depending who’s sitting on the other side of the conversation. There are even things that we’re afraid to tell ourselves. Vulnerability can be scary because these are true emotions, and it’s also scary because it touches our ego and brings up our insecurities. It’s an inner struggle that I believe many of us will have for the rest of our lives.  

The number one thing that has helped me be more vulnerable is acknowledging my feelings instead of suppressing them. I am very intentional on taking the time to acknowledge my feelings, accept them, and then work to name them. Is it anger? Is it sadness? Is it hurt? Once I identify what I’m feeling, I decide if this is the right time for me to address them. If I’m in a meeting, or it just doesn’t feel like the right time, I will bookmark the feelings to address at a more appropriate time.

I vividly remember being in a meeting and something didn’t go the way that I had wanted it to go. In that moment in that meeting, it was important for me to say that I was angry or disappointed yet ensure that I have self-control over those emotions. My vulnerability was important in that moment because it allowed the people around me to see that it can be healthy and beneficial to voice feelings and frustrations in the moment, as long as you are doing it in a healthy and productive manner. I am so good now at acknowledging my mistakes. I will always tell people what my mistake was and how I learned from it, because I really truly feel that if I don’t make a mistake, then I’m not learning.

My kids are at the age where they are beginning to notice everything. I know that if I don’t practice vulnerability, I am not doing my part in helping them learn how to be successfully vulnerable and more self-aware of how to manage their emotions and really improve and grow themselves. Whether we like it or not, there’s a shadow that we cast over our family. What better reason to be intentional with self-awareness and vulnerability than remembering that it is not only helping shape who we are but also shaping who our loved ones will be.

Lots of prayer and the power of pause. Through self-awareness, I’ve learned my triggers, which is crucially important in times of adversity. I’ve learned to ask myself one simple question: what do I really want here, in this moment? Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times where I want is to say something not so nice. But if that is the answer that comes when I ask myself that question, I ask myself again, ‘what do I really want?’ and then add in a follow up question:  ‘What do I really want to have happen in the long run?’ Those two questions have really helped me manage my emotions in time of adversity.

My daughter plays competitive soccer, and she’s really good. If you want to learn how to manage your emotions, go to your child’s sports game! I’ve had to ask myself those two questions MANY times in the heat of the moment at a crucial moment in a game. Ultimately, I want my daughter to succeed, which means that I want her to see a positive reaction she should have when she loses or when she wins.  

Whether you’re a parent, a friend, a professional, or all three, managing your emotions well is critical. But what’s also critical is practicing self-compassion on your journey to be more self-aware and constantly remind yourself that this is a continuous learning journey. And you’re doing great.

Dr. Merary Simeon smiling in a white suit

Dr. Merary Simeon is a Fortune 50 HR Executive and co-founder of ZERA Consulting, a company that equips leaders with skills and strategies that advance multicultural women in the workplace. Through her meaningful work, she addresses crucial workplace issues such as creating an inclusive culture, intentional leadership, and more. 

With her rich experience and respected reputation, she’s become an engaging speaker, inspiring audiences to activate their power, unlock their potential, fulfill their purpose, and unmute their voice. 

Dr. Simeon holds a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. Her guiding principle is Philippians 4:13, crediting her success to Jesus Christ.