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Knowing Yourself Without Being Overwhelmed

Is there a way to do comprehensive personal reviews that will help me grow as a person and as a leader without making me feel like a complete failure?

Developing a Plan for Growth

Knowing yourself can be a bit intimidating, especially if you are a perfectionist like me. Growing up in a home where โ€œyou can do betterโ€ was a theme had both positive and negative effects.

On the positive side, two of my signature themes are Maximizer, someone who strives for excellence and seeks to take things from good to superb; and Responsibility, someone who takes ownership for what they should do. (See StrengthsFinder 2.0 for more on signature themes.) These two themes often drive me to perform at a high level.

On the negative side, my perfectionism can make me fight dual fears โ€“ the fear of failure and the fear of success. Fear of failure can cause procrastination, while fear of success is self-limiting.

All this means that I can be very self-critical when I look in the mirror. For people like me, a comprehensive self-initiated review is like shining a spotlight on all my faults at once. This will either cause panic and frantic striving to fix everything at once, or it will overwhelm me, causing me to give up or shut down. The end result of both approaches is failure. Itโ€™s a nasty shame cycle.

Stop the Ride! I Want to Get Off!

Is there a way to do comprehensive personal reviews that will help me grow as a person and as a leader without making me feel like a complete failure? Karl Vaters shared four principles in a recent article. He says, “The more a person wants to tell you what they think, the less valuable their feedback is likely to be.”

Larry Osborne also shared some ways he conducts self-initiated reviews in a 1994 Christianity Today article. He suggests:

  1. Initiate the process yourself to remove defensiveness.
  2. Donโ€™t take anonymous feedback.
  3. Get it in writing.
  4. Change evaluation tools every two years.
  5. Keep the salary review separate.

While these are all good suggestions, it can still be overwhelming to hear all your perceived faults at once. I suggest breaking reviews down into smaller bites. This will allow you to think more deeply on one subject. To digest what was said about one or two things instead of trying to swallow everything at once. Think of a good review process as fine dining, not a trip to Golden Corral.

To do this, I try to focus on one element of personal growth each year. Sometimes Iโ€™ll ask for feedback from people I trust. Other times I will listen to criticisms that were already offered. Here are the steps I follow:

  • Pick one area for improvement. I try to focus on something that is important and that Iโ€™m likely to change. It should be hard enough that I have to rely on the Holy Spirit but not something that feeds my perfectionism.
  • Go deep on the subject. With the Holy Spiritโ€™s guidance, I try to go deep into the root causes of this fault. This is an exercise in heart exploration. It hurts but itโ€™s necessary for true growth. Without it, Iโ€™ll end up treating symptoms rather than the real sickness.
  • Find people who have already fought this battle. Wisdom from others, whether it be from personal conversations, podcasts, books, or articles, can really accelerate the change process.
  • Listen to those who know you best. Not every critic will have an accurate view of you โ€“ especially those who are critical of everyone and everything. Listen to your friends, family, and close coworkers. They are more likely to know what they are talking about.
  • Identify some ways to change and work on them for a year. At the end of the year move on to something else. Youโ€™ll find that you continue to grow in this area for a few more years as what you learned takes root. Spending too much time on one thing will keep you from addressing other areas for growth.

How to Choose One Thing

There are several categories that you can use as potential areas of focus:

  • Biblical character
  • Personal call from God
  • Ministry or job description
  • Healthy boundaries
  • The dark side of your strengths (weaknesses)

However, these categories are much too broad to be of real use. For example, you cannot address all of biblical character in one year. Frankly, that takes a lifetime. You can look at the different lists of biblical character traits (Galatians 5:22-23 is one such list) and ask, โ€œWhich one do I most need to work on?โ€ Use a survey of friends or some other review process to help you pick just one.

Here is a sample review survey I recommend using parts of it as a guide and customize your review process to meet your unique ministry needs and goals. Donโ€™t just print it and ask people to fill it out. That can be self-defeating.

In 2018, I worked on clarifying my call to ministry. Iโ€™m starting 2019 with prayer retreat to listen to the Holy Spirit and decide what to focus on next. Iโ€™ll let you know what I decide when Iโ€™m back from my retreat. What is the one thing you need to work on in the next year? Is it a common theme when you ask your friends, family, and coworkers? Leave a comment below; maybe we can help one another.

Author of ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘พ๐’†๐’‚๐’“๐’š ๐‘ณ๐’†๐’‚๐’…๐’†๐’“โ€™๐’” ๐‘ฎ๐’–๐’Š๐’…๐’† ๐’•๐’ ๐‘ฉ๐’–๐’“๐’๐’๐’–๐’•: ๐‘จ ๐‘ฑ๐’๐’–๐’“๐’๐’†๐’š ๐’‡๐’“๐’๐’Ž ๐‘ฌ๐’™๐’‰๐’‚๐’–๐’”๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’•๐’ ๐‘พ๐’‰๐’๐’๐’†๐’๐’†๐’”๐’” Zondervan Reflective, March 28, 2023 | West Michigan Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries ( | Co-host of the Hope Renewed podcast | Clergy Coach | Certified PRO-D facilitator | Spiritual director | Graduate of the Soul Care Institute | Provides training in soul care and leadership | Consults for churches and leadership teams | Leads workshops and retreats | Served as an ordained pastor for 18 years | MDiv from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. | Learn more about Sean at

1 comment on “Knowing Yourself Without Being Overwhelmed

  1. Pingback: Knowing Yourself Without Being Overwhelmed โ€” The Pastor’s Soul – elunarcom

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