As a child, my best friend’s dream was to become a professional NFL player—a dream shared by many young kids in the United States. In the eyes of a kid, being a professional athlete is ranked high on the “coolness” charts. Playing sports for a living is considered a dream job.

However, no matter how badly my friend wanted to play professional football, no matter how many hours he practiced, no matter how much film he watched, no matter how much coaching he received, he would never make it to the NFL. Why? Well, Albert Einstein sums it up nicely:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

 My friend was five foot four and 130 pounds. He was athletic, had a great work ethic and an unwavering passion for the game. Yet, despite these traits, he was not cut out to be a professional NFL player.

Unfortunately, he was so caught up in his fantasy of making it to the NFL that when he wasn’t recruited to play college football at a D-1 school, he was shocked. He could not understand—all five foot four of him—why coaches weren’t seriously looking at him.

While its important to strive for big goals, its also critical to pursue feats that align with one’s inherent abilities and traits. This isn’t to say that, for example, if you are dyslexic you can’t be a great writer. Not at all.

Yet certain aspirations, like my 5’4” friend’s dream to be an NFL player, are simply unrealistic. My friend lacked the wherewithal to understand he wasn’t physically drawn out to be an NFL player. He was blinded by a fantasy of playing in Madison Square Garden, unable to recognize the fact that he didn’t win the genetics “lottery.”

However, his passion, deep understanding and ability to analyze the game present him with a wide range of career possibilities: a basketball writer, analyst, coach, scout, sportscaster, etc.

Why Is Self Awareness Important?

Self-awareness is defined as the “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motivations and desires.” Billie Jean King, former world #1 tennis player who won 39 grand slams, claimed, “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” While I’m not a tennis champion, I agree with King and think she articulated a universal truth: that self-awareness is crucial for one’s well-being.

In his famous commencement speech, Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” People who succeed in their respective careers are typically good at what they do. To a certain affect, their work comes naturally to them. By identifying what you do and don’t like, you set the framework for identifying your strengths, because the two are often correlated.

You may be wondering, how do I know my strengths? How do I know what I’m good at? Unfortunately, self-awareness isn’t taught in school. However, there are ways to develop self-awareness.

Here are three questions to help you foster a stronger sense of self-awareness.

What Is One Activity or Hobby That Has Shaped Who You Are Today?

Your true identity—the essence of who you are—is not predicated solely on the activities that you’ve partaken in. However, chances are that a time-consuming activity or a favorite hobby of yours has been influential in developing your character. In my own life, I played soccer for 14 years. While today I don’t identify myself as a “soccer player,” soccer has nonetheless played a significant role in fostering my work ethic and understanding of being a team player.

Once you identify what your activity or hobby is, you can dig deeper and uncover the characteristics and strengths you’ve developed as a result. These traits often reveal more about who you are as an individual.

Ask Your Friends and Family to Describe You in Three Words

A great way to test your own level of self-awareness is to write down three words that you think describe yourself. Then, ask the five people closest to you to describe you in three words. You want to ensure the feedback is honest, so make sure to ask each person separately so they aren’t influenced by each other’s answers.

If you get “analytical” five times from five different people, I would bet that you are damn well analytical. By asking others for genuine feedback, you will receive honest insight into the type of person you are. This information will allow you to have a stronger sense of self – and an honest check-in to see if how you perceive yourself matches how you portray yourself to others.

Keep a Daily Journal of Your Thoughts

      “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

This quote by Flannery O’ Connery definitely resonates with my own thinking process. Because we have millions of thoughts circulating through our heads, the act of writing down our thoughts and feelings allows us to articulate and understand them in a more clear fashion. Through the process of journaling, you may find clarity and answers to questions that have been nagging at you.

Also, you can go back and read previous journal entries to identify reoccurring themes and thoughts. This will provide insight into your thought process, what you like and don’t like, and other common feelings. By viewing your thoughts in written form, you will strengthen your awareness of self.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” – Lao Tzu

When we have a strong understanding of self, we become aware of our strengths, motivations and desires. Through this awakening, we can consciously control our actions and thoughts to align with the best version of ourselves. Having a strong sense of self-awareness, although not taught in school, can be practiced and developed—and it should be!

Give yourself the gift of expanding your inner awareness and watch as your outer world will change for the better.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Jake Heilbrunn is the author of Off the Beaten Trail, an inspiring memoir about his journey leaving college and solo backpacking through Central America at 18 with no phone or knowledge of Spanish. An emerging leader of his generation, he has reached thousands of people through his blog posts, inspirational videos, and motivational talks at high schools, colleges, and other venues. He is dedicated to empowering people to live a life of purpose through listening to their inner voice, heeding their intuition and then taking action.