The underlying purpose of honest self-assessment in your pursuit of a successful transition into the civilian workforce is rather simple: you need to develop an accurate idea of who you are and what you want.
Most rational adults with a strong moral compass would agree that honesty is a virtue of the highest order. They would also be the first to affirm that honesty – in spite of the fact that it occasionally creates conflict and discord – is the best policy.
If as a society we value honesty to such a high degree, why do we have such a difficult time being honest with the one person who has the most gain from our honesty: ourselves?
We have been exposed to competing philosophies regarding honesty that cause our mind to become conflicted. On one hand, we understand that honesty is a virtue. On the other hand we have come to understand honesty – as it relates to ourselves – as a negative event. I hear those I interact with use phrases such as “the brutal truth,” “painful truth” and “the truth hurts” when approaching the topic of self- assessment.
Not only is this terribly misguided, it is also completely unnecessary. Even worse, it’s completely impractical.
These competing messages regarding honest self-assessment result from a lack of understanding of the concept itself, and are further compounded when the process is incorrectly applied. Let me share with you now some of the insights I have developed over time with respect to the “self-assessment exercise,” both in principle and in application.
This process is especially relevant when applied to the assessment of skill sets that transitioning veterans will rely upon to successfully secure employment in the civilian workforce.
1. Honesty, in and of itself, isn’t painful. What is painful is the judgment we impose upon ourselves after the truth has been revealed. Objective truth free from the limitations of self-imposed judgment is the first key to success in this exercise. If your self-assessment process is to be truly productive, it needs to be as painless as possible.
It also needs to be free from your self-imposed judgment regarding the event in question. Otherwise, while “the truth is trying to set you free,” your uncontrolled judgment is placing you back into chains as quickly as you manage to escape from them.
2. Self-assessment shouldn’t be used to showcase faults. If you have ever been the recipient of the phrase, “C’mon … just be honest with yourself,” you are probably aware that whatever follows from the persons’ mouth will be negative. However, when you’re saying that phrase to yourself for the purpose of self-assessment, it should have a positive focus.
That doesn’t mean you ignore your weaknesses and previous failures; that would violate the honest spirit of an accurate self- assessment and deprive you of the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. What it does mean is you change the way you prioritize your assessment – positive strengths first and negative weaknesses last – and in so doing you change your orientation and focus.
3. Self-assessment doesn’t create reality; it reveals it. Barring the most traumatic experiences that create amnesiac episodes in certain patients, it’s safe to say that most of us are aware of our own strengths, weaknesses and emotional issues. We can choose to ignore or deny them, but the truth is our response does not in any way change the fact that issues exist.
When you engage in honest self-assessment you will not, for the most part, discover issues you did not know previously existed. What you will do is discover why they exist and how they can be reconciled to your satisfaction.
4. Self-assessment is an incremental process of discovery. When executed correctly, honest self-assessment is a gradual process that eventually becomes both comfortable and habitual. The process is continuous; once started and executed correctly your ability to self- assess in an honest manner will become second nature. Getting to that level of comfort is the challenge.
5. Self-assessment is a private process no one sees but you. Honest introspection is about freedom: freedom from judgment, freedom from external pressures and freedom from outside interference. That said, while no one can see the process of self-assessment, I can assure you that everyone will see the benefit and no one will miss the absence of falsely-held beliefs.
6. Self-assessment reduces the possibility for self-sabotage and low self-esteem. By knowing what truly drives you – embracing your strengths and acknowledging your areas of opportunity – you tend to make better decisions based on objective fact. Logical decisions based on fact tend to yield a higher probability of success (by minimizing the opportunity for failure), which in turn leads to higher self-esteem. There’s nothing quite like the victory of a success to boost ones’ confidence.
When you rationalize away the obvious, logically justify the irrational and ignore the reality you know is lurking beneath the surface you become a prime candidate for self-sabotage and low self-esteem. No one will fault you for what you aren’t, and even if they do it makes no real difference at the end of the day. No one will fault you for what you are incapable of doing, and those who do make no difference anyway.
Now that the true nature of honest self-assessment has been revealed, embrace the concept of identifying some areas to focus on during your introspective time. It’s easier to hit a target you can recognize from a distance.

Michael I. Kaplan is a passionate advocate for military veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce and consults for those considering the pursuit of entrepreneurial small business ventures.  He specializes in designing and launching casual dining restaurant concepts, and trouble-shooting outlier units for franchise operations.

His most recent book, The Prior-Service Entrepreneur: Providing Military Veterans with the Competitive Skills to Start a Successful Business, has earned 5-STAR recognition on Amazon and is available through all major booksellers. Michael regularly writes and publishes articles for veteran organizations and advocacy groups.  To contact Michael, visit his LinkedIn ProfileTwitter Page or contact him directly by email.