By Nathalie Marquez Courtney
When working on personal growth and career development, we often try to keep the focus firmly on building on our strengths.
We take courses that expand on what we know, highlight our skills and gains traction on our online profiles, and even try to find a "good" way to answer that notoriously thorny interview question: "what are your biggest weaknesses?"
But what if we’ve spent too long focusing on our "best" self?
It might come as a surprise to learn that exploring the parts of yourself that you wouldn’t ordinarily put anywhere near your resume might be the secret to unlocking career growth or getting professionally unstuck.
This is where "shadow work," the latest self-care trend taking over TikTok, comes in.
The hashtag #shadowwork has a whopping 2.3 billion views and counting on the platform, while the viral self-published mental health guide that many posters are using, 'The Shadow Work Journal' by Keila Shaheen, outsold Oprah and countless other best-selling tomes earlier this year.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is nothing new. First popularised by 20th century psychoanalyst Carl Jung, it involves exploring the darker, less appealing side of yourself; the parts you might consider inferior or unacceptable to others that you tend to avoid dwelling on.
Why is it having a moment now?
Some theories suggest it has emerged due to an increasing interest in holistic self-care, while others see its TikTok popularity as another facet of Gen Z’s quest for authenticity, a reaction to Instagram’s perfectly polished, overly curated aesthetic.
Using shadow work for professional growth
While TikTok popularised shadow work as a way to help with purely personal development, using it as a career tool can lead to some interesting insights.
Whether it’s self-sabotaging behaviour, a tendency to engage in office drama, or even a pattern of overdoing it and burning out, we all have facets of our professional selves that we’re not proud of.
Think of it like a box, where you keep things about yourself that you don’t like to think about too much.
Opening the box involves approaching these perceived flaws with curiosity and compassion, which in turn can lead to increased self-awareness, a better understanding of your triggers and, ultimately, a more fulfilling work life.
Exploring your shadow self is also about looking at parts of yourself that, at some point, you felt weren’t palatable to others.
For example, perhaps you loved art and drawing as a child, but felt pressured by family or society to pursue a career in finance or law – that art-loving part of yourself could have become part of your shadow self, something you keep hidden.
Shadow work starter exercises
You can do shadow work solo or with a professional therapist. Many experts recommend journalling.
Start by picking an area to work on. Questions you can ask yourself include: What bothers me in others? Was there a time in my life when I showed this same quality? What recurring patterns or behaviours do I notice in my career? What made me start doubting myself as a child? What is something I feel embarrassed to admit I love?
Examine and reflect on your answers, again focusing on staying curious and learning, not judging.
It’s important to remember shadow work is about integration and alignment; about accepting these perceived negative traits as core parts of your being, not things to be fundamentally changed or improved.
By bringing them out of the dark and appreciating the role they play in your personality, you can show up more authentically in work – and life.
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