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Know Thyself: 3 Reasons Why Self-Awareness is the Holy Grail of Sterile Processing Career Growth

Career growth does not happen in a vacuum.

It happens in the midst of people -- a large group of opinionated people. And since these opinions become the foundation of your professional reputation, it behooves you to be very aware of what those opinions are and whether or not they line up with your opinion of yourself.

The great literary critic and British newspaper editor GK Chesterton once quipped, "All men are ordinary men; the extraordinary men are those who know it." Knowing the ordinary-ness of yourself and behaving accordingly may actually be the most important characteristic of an effective leader, and could be the defining factor in your next promotion. You can call this type of knowledge-based realism self-awareness -- and here are three reasons why I believe it's the holy grail of Sterile Processing career growth . . .

1) Everyone has an Opinion . . . About You

Opinions are like belly-buttons, everyone has one. Whether you believe it or not, everyone has an opinion about you -- and it matters. If you're a new technician, your trainer, supervisors, manager, and other co-workers have an opinion about you. Do you know what it is? Do they see you as an energetic, go-getter, willing to take an issue by the horns and stick with it until you have the right answer? If you're a supervisor or manager, other surgical services leaders most likely have an opinion about you as well. Do they see you as trustworthy, competent, and communicative? If the answer is "Yes," do you know why they feel that way? If the answer is "No," do you have an idea of why not? The answers to these questions, and others like it, are important because they go straight to the heart of self-awareness. You carry a sign on your back every day -- and it either says good things about you or it doesn't.

2) Objects in Motion Tend to Stay in Motion

Secondly, your reputation as a Sterile Processing professional is not static. So even if you were once known as "Mr./Mrs. Dependable" -- that doesn't necessarily mean you still hold that title among your peers. Coming to terms with the fact that your reputation is fluid is important for two reasons. First, if you stumble at some point in your professional career, be encouraged that you can often regain whatever ground was lost through a combination of humble acknowledgement of failure and proactive pursuit of wisdom. Did you send an email to a work group that should have been a private conversation? Did you make a decision that impacted another team without first reaching out for their input? Even though these kinds of things can burn you, if you're willing to own up to them, apologize, and move forward with learned lessons -- other's perceptions of you can still be positive. Secondly, don't make the mistake of assuming that what is 'won' doesn't have to then be 'maintained.' Although you may reach different levels of professionalism in your life, you will  never  "arrive." And the moment you think you have (or act like you have) is the moment you lose most of your credibility as a leader. No one likes to follow an ego-driven windbag.

3) Bulls and China Shops: Friends Don't Let Friends Be Oblivious

So yes, everyone has an opinion about you at work (and most, if not all, of those opinions matter). Additionally, people's perceptions about you can and do change over time (for better or worse). But why do these truths matter? Because if you don't know how you are received as a Sterile Processing professional, chances are high that you will not be able to successfully navigate the delicate waters of career advancement in the field. Sometimes we get lucky breaks. We may be the 'last man standing' after mass resignations or just at the right place at the right time to be tapped to take a step up.  But even if this happens to you, that luck will eventually run out -- and all you will have left are your skills, track record, and professional relationships to carry you through. If you have spent the months and years honing and building your interpersonal skills among your peers and up-line leaders, the future will be bright. However, if you've spent this time unknowingly blundering around burning bridges and offending sensibilities, you may wake up ten years from now wondering why you never got another chance to grow.


Perhaps more than any other professional quality, this idea of self-awareness is one of the most important keys to growth, not only in Sterile Processing, but in the business world at large. You may be able to land a promotion without it, but you likely won't be able to continue to ascend up a ladder that demands the ability to know thyself -- and thereby, to know others well.

Lucky for you, now you know. . .

*Additional Readings:

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