Wiser, Not Older: The Journey of Self-Awareness

Know Thyself As Early As You Can

Mo Issa
5 min readFeb 1, 2024

One morning, I was driving to work, happily listening to a history podcast, when a truck cut me off and stopped in front of me. The driver then stuck his hand out of the window and gave me the finger.

Heat surged through my body, reaching the top of my temple. I was furious and about to react when I remembered how much time and energy I had wasted the last time I did so. I took a deep breath and drove away.

That’s self-awareness.

At work, Tim was one of my direct reports. At the end of each quarter, he would struggle to create reports, especially a self-evaluation report detailing his performance. I’d felt that he was a dynamic performer, but with nothing to support his work, I wasn’t sure.

One afternoon, he walked into my office explaining that he had no trouble doing the work, but he struggled with writing a report cohesively and clearly. He asked for help, and if it were possible, he would like training for completing reports to include all relevant information.

I was so impressed with his attitude and the fact that he had recognized his weakness and wanted help. He reflected on the obstacle to his presenting a report, suggested a solution, and was ready to learn to become a better worker.

That’s self-awareness.

Imagine walking around with whipped cream on your nose and not knowing until you see your face in a mirror, or someone tells you. That moment of realisation is self-awareness.

When we look at it in a deeper way, self-awareness is, first, observing the thoughts, feelings and desires that often appear in our minds. Second, it is recognizing that we can pause for a second, not allowing that thought, feeling or desire to defeat us.

Self-awareness is becoming emotionally mature to widen the gap between what our first impulse is and what we do or say. In that gap, we can decide that we will not allow an amygdala hijack to take place. Rather, we choose the most appropriate response.

In doing so, we recognize and focus on our strengths and identify how to improve our weaknesses. The way that Tim did so impressively.

In taking more time to reflect, we also learn that there is a range of emotions that we can feel. We notice what is specifically going inside of us by naming the feeling. Is it disappointment, fear, anger, shame or rejection? Each one will warrant a different response.

Sometimes, the gap needed could be a second, minute, day or even one month. The more complex the thought concept, the longer the period of reflection is required.

Self-awareness is merely recognizing that we are separate from our thoughts and emotions. We are instead the observer who sits behind and watches these thoughts and feelings appear randomly. As we grow and understand that we do not have to identify with any negative emotions, we start to catch ourselves while expressing them.

To me, growing in self-awareness is the purpose of our life. It is that increased awareness that leads to wisdom, contentment and serving our fellow mankind.

How to become more Self-Aware

We must embark on a journey of self-discovery, which is also one of self-enquiry, so the more information we gather about ourselves, the clearer we become.

“Know Thyself” was inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi almost three thousand years ago. The wisdom of those two words still speaks loudly today.

Till today, I regret the fact that I didn’t start my own internal journey until I was in my mid-forties. Why Couldn’t I have done it at 27? What if I’d met a guru, mentor, or anyone to advise me to take a year off, travel to somewhere that is different from my environment, and learn more about myself?

Perhaps I wasn’t ready and was still deeply immersed in a life of materialism, affluence and egotism to understand the power of self-awareness.

But I still feel like I’ve wasted too many years chasing money, status and comforts. And what’s worse is that I’m still finding it hard to get out of that life that has had me under its grips for so many years.

The truth is that what we do every day becomes who we are. When we repeat habits, they become stories, and when they do, it’s easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as fact.

The longer we indulge in those patterns, the more difficult it is to change. We become identified with them and think we don’t know how to live without them.

For so long, I’d identified by being a hard-nosed businessman chasing down success, not contemplating if I was happy or not. Not knowing who I was or what I truly wanted.

It wasn’t until I suffered a few setbacks in life that I was forced to look at myself and ask some hard questions.

Was I truly content with my life?

Do I really know who I am and what I want?

Then, the questions got more specific:

What was I like when growing up? What interests or practices do I completely lose myself in?

What are my values and the principles I stand for?

What are my strengths and weaknesses? Most importantly, what are my aspirations? How do I imagine my life to be?

If I had seriously studied these questions at an earlier age, then I would have shifted the trajectory of my life earlier. The changes I wanted would’ve also been easier with fewer mental imprints to deal with.

For me, the ways that helped me both know myself deeper and become more Self-aware were:

  • Reading literary books like Hemingway, Hesse, Tolstoy, and many more made my world and thinking expand.
  • Reading Poetry of the Soul: Rumi and Kahlil Gibran both left a huge imprint on me, guiding me to ask the right questions.
  • Daily journalling: Julia Cameron’s method of writing anything and everything in three full pages.
  • Writing regularly on concepts and ideas that I learned from the great writers, philosophers, and students of life.
  • Relationships have also been a great teacher for me; as I’ve become more vulnerable and intimate, the real Mo was born.
  • Travelling and exposing myself to different cultures and traditions made me realise how narrow-minded I was.
  • Going on several psychedelic trips. It reinforced the fact that we are spiritual beings and that there is some mystical power at play around us. Most importantly, it showed me there is a much deeper level to our consciousness than we allow ourselves to see or feel.

Not age, but more self-awareness makes us wiser.

Don’t wait until a midlife crisis. Don’t wait until a traumatic situation gets you thinking.

Start finding who you are as early as possible.

Be proactive and stir the pot to start discovering who you truly are by simply asking meaningful questions about yourself and what you want from life. (Not what your peer group, Instagram or parents want from life.)



Mo Issa

I rise daily at 5 am, meditate, read and journal on my Self-awareness journey. Some of my reflections make it to my blog; others don’t. (http://mo-issa.com)